Tag Archives: defendant

The Biggest Medicare Fraud Cases of 2015

Medicare does not keep records of how much it loses annually because of fraud, but the FBI, which oversees the investigation and prosecution of those alleged to have participated in fraud, estimates that 3% to 10% of all Medicare billings are fraudulent. The FBI task force believes that healthcare fraud costs taxpayers “tens of billions of dollars a year.”

Here is an overview of some of the biggest Medicare fraud cases of 2015:

  1. In June 2015, 243 healthcare providers across the country were charged individually with Medicare fraud. This was the largest-ever coordinated takedown in the history of the National Medicare Fraud Strike Force history. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, home health workers and other healthcare professionals were all indicted for falsely billing Medicare for approximately $712 million in various fraudulent schemes. The healthcare providers allegedly:
  • Billed for services that were not rendered
  • Charged for equipment that was never delivered
  • Billed for care that was not needed

Specific criminal charges include:

  • Conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud
  • Violating anti-kickback statutes
  • Money laundering
  • Identity theft

Healthcare providers nationally were included in the sweep of the task force. Charges were brought in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, California, New York and elsewhere. The defendants face years in prison in addition to having their assets forfeited to the government and having to repay the amount of money they fraudulently obtained.

In a press release announcing the takedown, the attorney general for the U.S. expressed the commitment of the Department of Justice to continue its “focus on preventing wrongdoing and prosecuting those whose criminal activity drives up medical costs and jeopardizes a system that our citizens trust with their lives.”

  1. Also in June 2015, the former president of a Houston hospital was sentenced to more than 40 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $46.8 million in restitution to Medicare. His son and two other co-conspirators were also found guilty of receiving kickbacks, conspiracy to commit Medicare fraud and money laundering. The scheme involved billing Medicare for psychiatric services that were never provided to patients. The total amount of money fraudulently received by all participants was estimated to equal $158 million.
  1. In October 2015, Millennium Health in Boston, formerly Millennium Laboratories, admitted to billing Medicare and other governmental healthcare programs more than $256 million for laboratory tests that were either unnecessary or never actually performed. The lab also provided kickbacks to physicians for referring patients for testing. Millennium, with headquarters in San Diego, is one of the largest urine-testing laboratories in the U.S. According to the Massachusetts U.S. attorney, “Millennium promoted indiscriminate and unnecessary testing that increased medical costs without serving patients’ real medical needs. A laboratory which knowingly conducts medically unnecessary testing operates unlawfully and squanders our precious federal health care resources.”
  1. In August 2015, a New York man who operated several healthcare clinics for treating HIV/AIDS patients was sentenced to more than seven years in federal prison for defrauding Medicare out of more than $31 million. He billed for treatment that patients did not need and often were not given. Medicare was billed for infusion or IV treatment for many patients who never received treatment. Some patients who were provided infusion therapy were administered doses that were highly diluted.
  1. Two psychologists were recently added to an indictment to join two of their cohorts who had previously been charged with defrauding Medicare of more than $25 million. The psychologists are owners of two companies that provide psychological testing to nursing home patients in four Gulf Coast states: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. The problem is that the psychologists allegedly billed Medicare for tests that were not medically necessary and, in many cases, were never performed. The case is pending, and the press release notes that the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The Medicare Fraud Strike Force, since its formation in March 2007, has charged 2,300 defendants with fraudulently billing more than a total of $7 billion. The task force is committed to continuing its work to hold providers accountable so that the number of fraudulent providers will decrease.

An Overlooked Attorney Fee Statute in Oregon

Companies doing business in Oregon should be aware of ORS 20.080, which can provide for attorney fees in cases seeking damages of $10,000 or less.  That statute provides that prevailing plaintiffs may be awarded attorney fees. It is important to be aware that, in ORS 20.080 cases seeking compensatory damages of $10,000 or less, the attorney fees can quickly approach or outstrip the compensatory damages.

This article will explore three key questions that clients generally have when defending against an ORS 20.080 case: 1) How does the plaintiff receive attorney fees?; 2) Do courts require plaintiffs to strictly comply with ORS 20.080?; and 3) How can defendants escape attorney fees in ORS 20.080 cases?

1. How Does the Plaintiff Receive Attorney Fees Under ORS 20.080?

Generally, a plaintiff has a claim for attorney fees under ORS 20.080 if the plaintiff: gives the defendant notice of a claim for $10,000 or less at least 30 days before the plaintiff files a lawsuit; provides enough documentation for the defendant to generally value the claim; and was awarded more at trial or arbitration than the defendant offered before the plaintiff filed the lawsuit. 

ORS 20.080 provides that:

“(1) In any action for damages for an injury or wrong to the person or property, or both, of another where the amount pleaded is $10,000 or less, and the plaintiff prevails in the action, there shall be taxed and allowed to the plaintiff, at trial and on appeal, a reasonable amount to be fixed by the court as attorney fees for the prosecution of the action, if the court finds that written demand for the payment of such claim was made on the defendant, and on the defendant's insurer, if known to the plaintiff, not less than 30 days before the commencement of the action or the filing of a formal complaint under ORS 46.465, or not more than 30 days after the transfer of the action under ORS 46.461. However, no attorney fees shall be allowed to the plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant tendered to the plaintiff, prior to the commencement of the action or the filing of a formal complaint under ORS 46.465, or not more than 30 days after the transfer of the action under ORS 46.461, an amount not less than the damages awarded to the plaintiff.

“(2) If the defendant pleads a counterclaim, not to exceed $10,000, and the defendant prevails in the action, there shall be taxed and allowed to the defendant, at trial and on appeal, a reasonable amount to be fixed by the court as attorney fees for the prosecution of the counterclaim.

“(3) A written demand for the payment of damages under this section must include the following information, if the information is in the plaintiff's possession or reasonably available to the plaintiff at the time the demand is made:

“(a) In an action for an injury or wrong to a person, a copy of medical records and bills for medical treatment adequate to reasonably inform the person receiving the written demand of the nature and scope of the injury claimed; or

“(b) In an action for damage to property, documentation of the repair of the property, a written estimate for the repair of the property or a written estimate of the difference in the value of the property before the damage and the value of the property after the damage.

“(4) If after making a demand under this section, and before commencing an action, a plaintiff acquires any additional information described in subsection (3) of this section that was not provided with the demand, the plaintiff must provide that information to the defendant, and to the defendant's insurer, if known to the plaintiff, as soon as possible after the information becomes available to the plaintiff.

“(5) A plaintiff may not recover attorney fees under this section if the plaintiff does not comply with the requirements of subsections (3) and (4) of this section.

“(6) The provisions of this section do not apply to any action based on contract.”

2. Do Courts Require Plaintiffs to Strictly Comply With ORS 20.080?

The short answer is no.  Although ORS 20.080 requires that plaintiffs make their demands in writing to the defendant AND the defendant’s insurer, if known, courts generally do not require plaintiffs to strictly comply with this portion of the statute.  Under Schwartzkopf v. Shannon the Cannon’s Window & Other Works, Inc., 166 Or App 466, 471, 998 P2d 244 (2000), a person may act as an agent for the defendant (and therefore may be considered “the defendant”) for purposes of ORS 20.080 if that person has authority to defend or settle a claim for the defendant.  Under Schwartzkopf, trial court judges have allowed plaintiff’s lawyers to provide notice to the defendant’s insurer without providing notice to the defendant, even though the plain language of ORS 20.080 requires that the plaintiff provide notice to both.  In these kinds of cases, the insurer has usually already engaged in some kind of negotiations for the defendant or has gathered facts for and on behalf of the defendant, giving the plaintiff evidence of agency.  Therefore, under ORS 20.080 and Schwartzkopf, if the insurer is the only person who receives a demand, practically and generally speaking, the insurer should treat that demand as sufficient notice as long as it was made at least 30 days before plaintiff filed the lawsuit.

Courts do generally require plaintiffs to send any additional written information that the demand would include, such as additional medical bills, to the defendant (or the defendant’s insurer) as soon as possible if the plaintiff obtains such information after the plaintiff has made her written 20.080 demand and before she has filed the lawsuit.

However, in the initial written demand, courts generally give plaintiffs leeway and, as long as the plaintiff has provided the defendant with enough documentation to generally value the claim, the plaintiff generally does not have to strictly comply with the statute and provide all of the documentation “reasonably available at to the plaintiff at the time.”  For example, if you are provided with an ORS 20.080 notice from a plaintiff’s lawyer that includes most of the medical records and bills but does not include copies of the x-rays, a trial judge will generally hold that the plaintiff’s lawyer substantially complied with ORS 20.080 and that the claim may proceed.

3. How Can Defendants Escape Attorney Fees in ORS 20.080 Cases?

The only way the defendant can escape attorney fees in ORS 20.080 cases is if the defendant makes an offer to the plaintiff before the lawsuit is filed that is more than the damages ultimately awarded to the plaintiff. In other words, if the plaintiff recovers $5,000, but the defendant offered $3,000 before the lawsuit was filed, the plaintiff gets her attorney fees.  If the plaintiff recovers $5,000, but the defendant offered $8,000 before the lawsuit was filed, the plaintiff does not receive her attorney fees.

If the lawsuit is filed and the defendant has a counterclaim of up to $10,000 and the defendant prevails in the lawsuit, the defendant gets its reasonable attorney fees.  What is “reasonable” is decided by the court.

In Oregon, it is important to notify your attorney right away after receipt of an ORS 20.080 letter to ensure that you strategize appropriately.  Although it may seem unpalatable, generally the best strategy is for defendant to make its best offer first, to minimize the risk of an award in excess of the offer and exposure to attorney fees. Many times, lawyers don’t receive cases until the lawsuit is filed and, in ORS 20.080 cases, that is usually too late; the plaintiff’s attorney fee claim is already in play.

The Rest Of The Story: In Defense Of Liens And Good Faith Negotiation

In late February 2013, the Audit Unit of the California Division of Workers Compensation provided a newsline release which dealt with good faith negotiations and liens. The release stated:

The Audit Unit of the Division of Workers' Compensation has received an increasing number of complaints from individuals and entities providing services on a lien basis in workers' compensation claims. The complainants report that some payors have adopted a policy of refusing to discuss negotiating the provider's liens until the provider of the services demonstrates it has filed a lien with the WCAB and paid the applicable lien filing or activation fee required by the enactment of SB 863. Such a policy is both unsupported by the plain language of Labor Code sections 4903.05 or 4903.06, and directly contrary to the legislative intent of those sections and existing law.

If a claims administrator has reasonable grounds to contend that nothing is owed, then good faith negotiation does not necessarily require an offer of compromise. In the absence of a good faith contention that nothing is owed, however, a refusal to negotiate prior to payment of the filing fee would not be in good faith.

Additionally, Title 8, California Code of Regulations, section 10109(e) mandates that “[a]ll Insurers, self-insured employers and third-party administrators shall deal fairly and in good faith with all claimants, including lien claimants.”

Title 8 California Code of Regulations, section 10250(b) requires a moving party state under penalty of perjury that the moving party has made a genuine good faith effort to resolve the dispute before filing the Declaration of Readiness (DOR). Forcing a provider to file a lien and pay the filing or activation fee before the payor will discuss informal resolution of their billing amount prevents the provider from complying with this mandate. Such conduct could expose the payor to the imposition of sanctions, attorney's fees and costs under Labor Code section 5813. This practice also exposes the payor to audit penalties for violation of Title 8, California Code of Regulations, section 10109(e). As is the Audit Unit's existing practice, the Audit Unit will review all complaints received about this practice during the next random or targeted audit of any payor about whom such a complaint has been received.

This release has prompted quite a bit of commentary. Most have discussed the impact the directive will have on the ongoing lien problem that plagues the Workers' Compensation system in California as a whole. Many comment on the sins of the defense-side of the system. Shortly after I read this release, I read a blog update from David DePaolo, President and CEO of WCCentral. If you do not read Mr. DePaolo's blog or his updates, I would encourage you to do so. They are excellent reading. In his blog article, he stated that the Division of Workers Compensation has finally listened to the various lien claimant representatives who are complaining that the defense is not negotiating in good faith with them when they contact examiners regarding their liens. He had previously written a blog on what he argued was “despicable behavior.”

I acknowledge that there are claims examiners and other support staff who may not deal in good faith when it comes to liens. However, does the blame for the inability or refusal to negotiate in good faith fall solely at the feet of the defendant? As a former claims examiner, I would loudly proclaim, “No!” There are two sides to the story. It is time to examine both.

SB 863 brought back a common sense approach to liens. Lien claimants can no longer simply paper a defendant with a green (or any other color) lien sheet and “claim” a lien is filed. They now must demonstrate they are a proper lien claimant by paying a filing fee to activate new or existing liens, and prove to both the payor (defendant) and the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board that they are justified in their demands for the time needed to negotiate.

Further, as the Torres decision states, they must also prove up their lien and assertion that the recovery they are seeking is due and proper. I would also argue that the Torres decision shed some light on one of the biggest challenges to negotiating liens: a lack of solid proof provided by the lien claimant. I believe it was the intent of SB 863 to take large steps to end frivolous lien filings and lien practices that clog every Workers' Compensation Appeals Board across the State.

The Division of Workers Compensation claims that requiring a lien to be filed and activation fee to be paid before lien negotiations commence is contrary to the plain language of Labor Code § 4903.5 and § 4903.6, as well as the legislative intent behind those sections and existing law. These sections deal with time frames and a statute of limitations for lien claimants to file their liens. They also protect the injured worker from the underlying obligation to pay for the service if a lien is not properly filed.

In my reading of these Labor Code sections, nowhere do I see an obligation for the defendant to address liens without a proper filing, as they can pay their fee well before the requirement to file a Declaration of Readiness is completed. In fact, these sections specifically require the lien claimant to adhere to the requirements of filing and proof of the same. SB 863 instructs the lien claimant to activate a lien by paying the fee.

The Division of Workers Compensation also states that a requirement to pay the activation fee prevents the lien claimants from negotiating in good faith prior to filing for a hearing. How does requiring the payment of a lien fee prevent the lien claimants from later asserting they could not negotiate in good faith prior to filing a Declaration of Readiness? I would argue that the filing fee lets the defendant know that the lien claimant is a proper party to the action. The lien claimant is not required to pay the filing fee at the same time the Declaration of Readiness is filed. The Division of Workers Compensation appears to indicate otherwise. Lien claimants have every opportunity to file their activation fee and then negotiate with the defendant over genuine disputes regarding payment and services.

We must also remember that SB 863 placed safeguards for lien claimants to recover filing fees as well as interest. They simply need to make a demand 30 days prior to filing a Declaration of Readiness. If the defendant fails to respond within 20 days and the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board and/or arbitrator eventually awards the amount of the original demand or more, they will be able to collect. Therefore, it appears the intent of the legislature was to hold both the lien claimant and the defendant accountable for good faith actions.

The lien claimant acts in good faith by paying a filing fee to activate their lien and then make a good faith demand. The defendant then has the responsibility of addressing the demand and negotiating in good faith, or pay the price for the failure to do so. I would add that the Division of Workers Compensation requires that a lien claimant file their activation fee and show proof of payment prior to the filing of a Declaration of Readiness, or by the date of the lien conference if they are not the party who filed for the hearing. See instructions at http://www.dir.ca.gov/dwc/liens.htm.

We have already seen a host of cases where lien claimants were dismissed for failure to show proof of their activation payment either at the time they filed the Declaration of Readiness or alternatively, prior to the hearing. However, we have also seen instances where the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board allows lien claimants to file on the morning of the hearing, even when the lien claimant was the party who filed the Declaration of Readiness. Why are we asserting a lien filing fee under SB 863 if we are permitting lien claimants to file and then argue on the day of court they are in “compliance” because on the morning of, or immediately prior to the hearing, they paid their filing fee?

Greg Jones of www.workcompcentral.com recently published statistics on the surge in liens filed in the latter half and most notably, the final quarter of 2012. His article stated that the largest unknown is how many of the liens filed will be “activated” and what the impact of the filing fee has on liens. Recall for liens filed after 1/1/13, the $150 activation fee applies. For liens filed before 1/1/13, it is $100. In both instances, the fees do not have to be filed until the matter is addressed at a hearing, or as late as 1/1/14. That allows for up to an entire year of negotiations on what would be considered an “inactive” lien. I see the mass filings in 2012 as evidence that lien claimants do not wish to process the filing fee. At the same time, they demand the defendants deal with them regardless of whether or not their liens are active.

I believe there were good intentions behind the Division of Workers Compensation's mandate. They are letting everyone know that negotiation during the claims process benefits everyone. And, it will help relieve the unbearable pressure the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board presently faces from dealing with an endless sea of liens. That being said, defendants should consider exactly what “good faith” really means, and how certain scenarios could result in a different number of conversations. I can assure you that your definition and the definition of most lien representatives will be different.

With all of this in mind, let us discuss specific scenarios and recommendations.

  1. Negotiation during active treatment: I would argue that unless the case has been settled and the treatment is future medical in nature, or if the lien claimant can document they will not treat the applicant again, the lien cannot be addressed. Some examples would be certain diagnostic testing, former physical therapy locations, or prior treating physicians.
  2. Future treatment: If you are negotiating prior to the resolution of the claim, ensure that the lien claimant will not be providing treatment in the future if at all possible. It makes no sense to deal with a new lien from the same lien claimant.
  3. MPN arguments: If the treatment is based on non-MPN care, and if you can establish a proper Medical Provider Network was in place and proper notices were provided, litigate the Medical Provider Network issue as soon as possible. Prior to medical-legal evaluations and prior to the lien drastically expanding in size, as we know it will.
  4. Petitions vs. liens: Certain groups such as copy services and interpreters, are arguing that a Petition for Costs is appropriate for their services. This is an ongoing issue that will require further litigation. At minimum, I would argue that if this is asserted after the case in chief has resolved, they are too late to assert the Petition as one of the parties (i.e. the applicant) has resolved their portion of the claim.
  5. Claims notes: Document your files and claims notes often. Make your arguments clear and understandable. Claims notes can be used as evidence if needed. Also document calls when you leave a message.
  6. Appeals: If a lien claimant is arguing fee schedule with you, ask them to submit their bill and supporting documentation, with a proof of service, for an appeal of the claims administrator's prior findings. The appeal will either generate new money for the provider, or firm up your argument that nothing is owed.
  7. Zero dollars: If you truly believe nothing further is owed, it is not bad faith to assert the same. You paid per fee schedule. There is a Medical Provider Network issue. They have not proven their services were reasonable, approved, or rendered. The list is endless. The key is to document your case for $0.00 recovery and make sure your foundation actually exists.
  8. Help your cause: Provide your attorney with all Explanations of Benefits during administration of the claim and after the case has settled. Provide them with any and all objection letters and involve them in the ongoing objection and negotiation process. Your attorney will need these to negotiate in good faith.
  9. Aggressive representation: Make sure your attorney is aggressive. It may surprise you to know that the many providers use the same representatives to handle Workers' Compensation Appeals Board matters. Your attorney likely deals with a few people time and time again. They remember the aggressive attorney who knows their file. Additionally, make sure your counsel is not too cozy with them. They can be polite and friendly. Your attorney should never speak ill of their client, or their position.
  10. Make them prove their case: Require the lien claimant serve you with all of their supporting documentation, not simply a bill and a report. If they intend on relying upon case law, statute, “usual and customary” arguments, or anything else, ask them to submit it to you prior to negotiation. They will ask the same thing from you. See the Torres decision.
  11. Assignments: Make sure the lien claimant or representative has complied with the rules regarding assignment. If they have not properly notified the parties of the assignment of the lien (or multiple assignments) a recommendation to dismiss the lien should be made at the time of hearing.
  12. Pick your date and time: The Division of Workers Compensation requires you negotiate in good faith. However, there is no requirement that negotiations must occur every day at any time. Many of my clients designate one or two days out of the week to devote to liens. In my opinion, this is acceptable, as long as you are actively answering the phone, or responding to a fax or email.
  13. Verify: If a lien claimant states that they have filed their lien activation payment, request it to verify. You are not asking for the lien filing fee to be paid. You are merely asking for verification to determine if a lack of filing fee will be an issue at the time of the hearing.
  14. Release the small fish: Resolving the very minor liens during the claims adjusting process will often make your outlook appear brighter. As the lien list shrinks to only a handful of large lien holders, the final lien process will seem more palatable.

I predict that an increasing number of lien claimants will assert that bad faith actions are taking place, even during active negotiations. Do not be afraid to assert that nothing more is owed if you have complied with bill review and timely payment, if your Medical Provider Network is secure, or if your arguments are sound. Otherwise, pick up the phone and talk.

He Who Sits On His Rights Loses Them

Never Ignore the Statute of Limitations
The Wisconsin Court of Appeal was called upon to resolve a dispute over the application of a statute of limitations in a suit against American Family Mutual Insurance Company, Gage Creighbaum, Sherry Lagios, and Dimitrios Lagios (the “defendants”) who appealed an order denying their motion to dismiss. The trial court held that the defendants waived their statute of limitations defense by not raising it prior to filing their notice of appearance and serving their request for admissions in response to Maas’ amended complaint. In Justin M. Maas v. American Family Mutual Insurance Company, Gage M., No. 2011AP1661 (Wis.App. 08/01/2012) the Wisconsin Court of Appeal resolved the issue.

Background
On August 20, 2007, Creighbaum crashed his vehicle into a vehicle operated by Maas, resulting in personal injury to Maas. On August 18, 2010, two days before the end of the three-year statute of limitations period, Maas filed a summons and complaint against the defendants related to his injuries. Maas failed to serve any of the defendants with the summons and complaint.

Maas filed an amended summons and complaint on February 15, 2011, which he served on the defendants. The amended summons and complaint contained the same cause of action and named the same defendants as the original summons and complaint. The defendants filed an answer to Maas’ amended summons and complaint alleging Maas failed to obtain proper service of process on Creighbaum and the Lagioses and the court therefore lacked personal jurisdiction over them and alleged that Maas’ claim was barred by the statute of limitations.

The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the defendants’ failure to raise their jurisdictional objection prior to filing the notice of appearance and serving the request for admissions constituted a waiver of their statute of limitations objection. The court further held that Maas’ action was properly commenced and that the amended complaint related back to the original complaint.

Analysis
On appeal, the defendants argued that even though Maas filed his original summons and complaint two days prior to the running of the three-year statute of limitations period, his claim is barred because he failed to serve any of the defendants with the summons and complaint within ninety days of the filing as required by Wisconsin statutes.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeal concluded that the statutes are clear. An action to recover damages for personal injuries shall be commenced within 3 years or be barred. An action is commenced as to any defendant when a summons and a complaint naming the person as defendant are filed with the court, provided service of an authenticated copy of the summons and of the complaint is made upon the defendant within 90 days after filing. Thus, if service is not made within ninety days of the filing of the summons and complaint, the action is not commenced. If not commenced within the three-year statute of limitations period, the action is barred.

It was undisputed that Maas failed to serve any of the defendants with the original summons and complaint within ninety days of filing. Wisconsin procedure requires, therefore, that the court conclude his action was never commenced prior to the running of the limitation period and is therefore barred.

Maas’ failure to serve the defendants with the original summons and complaint within ninety days was a fundamental defect which deprived the trial court of personal jurisdiction over the defendants and rendered the original pleading a legal nullity. The trial court conclusion that the defendants waived their jurisdictional objection by failing to raise the objection when they filed their notice of appearance and served their requests for admissions in response to Maas’ amended pleading fails since there was nothing for the defendants to waive.

Conclusion
Maas’ failure to serve the defendants with the original summons and complaint within ninety days resulted in the three-year statute of limitations period expiring without an action having been commenced. The failure was a fundamental defect which rendered the pleading a legal nullity and could not be remedied by the subsequent filing of an amended pleading after the statute of limitations period expired.

Statutes of limitation were designed to protect people against stale claims because, if suit is not filed promptly, memories fade and witnesses can move away from the jurisdiction. Parties and lawyers that wait until the last moment to sue are taking a chance of losing those rights because of their sloth. Mr. Maas is not without a remedy, however, because his lawyer’s failure to serve the defendants within the 90 days allowed by statute might allow for a case against the lawyer for failing to act within the custom and practice of lawyers in his community.

Although the waiver argument was original and successful in the trial court it did not stand up to scrutiny since no one can waive a nullity nor can a cause of action be created by waiver.