Pharmacy Fraud: Data Tells the Story

Today’s Topic:  Did you know the DOJ never tires of chasing the bad guys?

If a pharmacy is going to engage in nefarious activities, it should expect to get caught. Fraud in these cases is generally easy to prove. Simply verifying inventory, orders and dispensing records yields incredible data that when combined with comparative data from peer pharmacies can be used by law enforcement to establish that fraud has been committed.

Latest Enforcement Activity

On April 13, 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a 78-month prison sentence imposed against a 37-year-old owner/operator of several pharmacies in New York, Aleah Mohammed (Mohammed). The sentence was as a result of guilty plea entered by Mohammed in April 2021 for charges of mail fraud, health care fraud and conspiracy to commit health care fraud. As part of her guilty plea, Mohammed agreed to forfeit $5.1 million and pay $6.5 in restitution.

During the course of her criminal conduct, Mohammed engaged in multiple schemes to defraud health care programs, including obtaining more than $6.5 million from Medicare Part D Plans and Medicaid drug plans. Over a five-year period, Mohammed submitted fraudulent claims to Medicare and Medicaid for prescription drugs that were:

  • not dispensed;
  • not prescribed as claimed;
  • not medically necessary;
  • dispensed during a time when one or more of the pharmacies she operated was no longer registered with the State of New York; and
  • often for expensive prescription drugs to treat HIV.

Adding to the mounting evidence against her, Mohammed led a lavish lifestyle and purchased luxury items such a Porsche and jewelry.

Lessons Learned

It seems that criminals never learn. They think that they are smarter than law enforcement and will never get caught. But rarely do those criminals win in the end. It is basic accounting and law enforcement knows how to do that. Law enforcement mines each pharmacy’s data and looks for outlier information as compared to peer pharmacies as well as inventory data. So what information did the DOJ have at its disposal in this case?

  1. On hand inventory. As with any payer audit, the payer (and law enforcement) can obtain information concerning inventory on hand. If the pharmacy never had the inventory, it could not sell the drug.
  2. Drug purchasing records. Again, unless a pharmacy had the drug in inventory or purchased the drug through one of its wholesalers, it is hard for the pharmacy to defend against fraud charges when it is filing a claim for drugs never in its inventory.
  3. Dispensing records. Dispensing records also reveal information essential to determining what was in inventory, what was purchased and what was dispensed.
  4. Comparative data concerning dispensing of high-cost drugs as a proportion of other drugs sold.
  5. Comparative data looking at peer pharmacies for dispensing trends.

Collectively, the data and these records make it easy for law enforcement to identify and prosecute fraudulent claims. Even so, criminals seemingly are undeterred, and schemes like this one are repeated time and again.

Closing Thoughts

Simply put, crime does not pay. It does not matter whether it is in the pharmacy industry or elsewhere, when government funds are involved, law enforcement will surely be looking for wrongdoers. This probably is not the last case of its kind this year, so expect to see more news of pharmacies/pharmacists behaving badly.

Healthcare Fraud Scheme Indictment Starts the New Year

The U.S. Attorney arrested 13 people in a $100 Million healthcare fraud scheme in NY and NJ involving automobile insurance claims.  Some of the facts alleged include—

  • Bribed 911 operators and hospital employees for confidential information of insured drivers
  • Unnecessary and painful medical procedures
  • A non-physician owning medical clinics
  • Paying hundreds of thousand of dollars to “runners” who used the money to bribe people

Healthcare businesses that largely serve people injured in motor vehicle accidents remain a top tier focus for law enforcement and special investigative units (SIUs) of insurers.  But so do many other providers in the healthcare sector, such as pharmacies, durable medical equipment (DME) providers, addiction treatment providers and labs.  Payer and governmental presumption is often that financial motives are driving clinical behavior, NOT documented medical necessity.  Hence the need for active compliance plans and policies and procedures that don’t sit on a shelf, but rather are woven into daily business and clinical operations.  Nothing less than the right contracts, the right compliance plan and the right business culture will establish and maintain a sustainable healthcare business!

Florida Medical Device Company Settles $16 Million Case

Enforcement against medical device companies is not new and yet, these companies continue to engage in schemes that land them in hot water.  Frequently the same schemes are repeated over and over- some form of payment by the device company to a physician who selects/recommends the device to patients.  In some cases, the payment is in the form of an honorarium for speaking engagements.  In others, the payment is an all-expense paid travel to attend device company-sponsored “CME” in exotic locations or consulting fees for assisting in the evaluation and design of the device.

Announced yesterday by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), is the settlement of allegations against Florida-based Arthrex Inc., a medical device company that specializes in orthopedic products.  Under the settlement agreement, Arthrex will pay $16 million for allegedly paying kickbacks to an orthopedic surgeon (Dr. Peter Millett) in Colorado.  The “payment” in this case was structured as royalty payments purportedly to compensate the orthopedic surgeon for his “contributions” to the development of two of Arthrex’s products when in fact the “payment” was intended to induce the surgeon’s recommendation/selection of the Arthrex products.  By offering the payments to the surgeon with the intent to induce purchase of Arthrex’ products which were then billed to Medicare, Arthrex violated the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) as well as the False Claims Act.Continue reading

Genetic Testing: Be Hopeful but Wary

Genetic tests are valuable because they can provide important information to patients and their medical providers regarding diagnoses, treatment, and disease prevention. However, the rapid growth in the number of tests ordered, especially in light of the telemedicine expansion during the pandemic, has invited well-earned scrutiny to the industry.

Make no mistake: genetic testing is heavily regulated (and enforced). The Federal Anti-Kickback Statute, Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act, and Commercial Insurance Fraud Law have all been used to prosecute unscrupulous marketers, call centers, and telemedicine providers in the last few months. Kickbacks in exchange for genetic specimens are just as illegal as kickbacks for patients. Three months ago, a Florida man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiracy to commit health care fraud. His actions resulted in the submission of approximately $3.3 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare for genetic testing.Continue reading

Routine Waiver of Patient Financial Responsibility – A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

By: Michael Silverman

While not a ‘classic’ kickback – such as the scenario of a practitioner receiving remuneration in exchange for a prescription or referral of healthcare business – the routine waiver of patient financial responsibly by a healthcare provider ALSO constitutes healthcare fraud, even for commercially insured patients!

Unfortunately, such a serious violation does not readily come to mind for many of those operating in the healthcare space, but its relatively straightforward once you think about it. In essence, a financial incentive is being provided to the patient to utilize the services of a certain healthcare provider by virtue of that individual not being subjected to out-of-pocket expense they normally would be subjected to if they were to utilize another similarly situated provider.Continue reading

Fraud & Abuse Healthcare Law

Fraud and abuse in healthcare

Fraud and healthcare shouldn’t go hand in hand. But improper paperwork, unusual relationships, and greed can get you into legal trouble. Find out about typical cases and what you should do.

Continue reading

Orthotics and Fitter Requirements – Clearing the Air for Medicare Enrolled DMEPOS Providers

dmepos orthotics

dmepos orthoticsBy: Michael Silverman

Also Available in Video Format!

With off-the-shelf knee and lumbar orthotics (HCPCS Code OR03) included in Medicare’s Round 2021 of Competitive Bidding (and thus ability to supply such devices to beneficiaries living in competitive bid areas limited to bid-winners), non bid-winning DMEPOS providers have been scrambling to find new revenue streams for their business models.

Many such providers are looking to continue providing orthotics – such as prefabricated (HCPCS Code OR02) or custom fabricated (HCPCS Code OR01) braces.

Unfortunately, a misunderstanding that could jeopardize Medicare billing privileges seems to be spreading. It pertains to DMEPOS provider personnel/fitter requirements to enable billing for such prefabricated or custom fabricated orthotics; allow me an opportunity to clear the air.Continue reading

A DME Fraud of Epic Proportions

dme telemedicine fraud

dme telemedicine fraudBy: Michael Silverman

Almost two years after “Operation Brace Yourself” regarding purported telemedicine and orthotic bracing fraud made national headlines, on February 4, 2021 the Department of Justice Announced that a major player in that fraud – Florida businesswoman Kelly Wolfe – recently pled guilty to criminal health care and tax fraud charges.

Operation Brace Yourself was a 2019 crackdown on the illegal use of telemarketing and telemedicine to generate fraudulent claims for DME orders, whose reach spanned continents and ultimate implications defrauded taxpayers out of billions of dollars.

According to the Department of Justice Press Release and Settlement Agreement, Mr. Wolfe was seemingly a significant mastermind in establishing hundreds of DME companies that went on to defraud US taxpayers and Medicare beneficiaries.

Here are some highlights of the recently signed Settlement Agreement between the United States DOJ, Kelly Wolfe and her company Regency, Inc.Continue reading

Florida Healthcare Law Firm Begins the New Year with the Addition of Attorney Karen Davila, Pharmacy Law Specialist

fhlf karen davilaFollowing last year’s growth expansion, Florida Healthcare Law Firm in Delray Beach, FL has hired board certified attorney (in Health Law) Karen Davila, as of January 4, 2021. Karen will play an essential role representing healthcare businesses with a specialized focus on retail pharmacy owners and operators. Karen has nearly 30 years’ experience in the health law space and is licensed in both Florida and Illinois.

Florida Healthcare Law Firm has announced that they have added Karen Davila to the team. Karen brings a wealth of healthcare business expertise working with national corporate pharmacies, large hospitals and local family-run businesses. As part of the firm’s expert pharmacy law team, Karen will advise independent pharmacies on matters such as PBM audits, regulatory compliance and transactional support. She also has experience complex provider relationships, reimbursement, fraud and abuse, DEA and FDA regulatory compliance, scope of practice of health care professionals, and quality/patient safety issues across the health care continuum.Continue reading

How to Protect Your Pharmacy From Risky Prescriptions

fhlf protect your pharmacyBy: Karen Davila

Pharmacies and their pharmacists are in a very tough spot in the current regulatory enforcement environment.  This is particularly true with dispensing controlled substances. Headlines like the below are commonplace:

DEA RAIDS PHARMACY AS PART OF LOCAL DRUG SWEEP

PHARMACY PAYS $500,000 IN PENALTIES FOR CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES ACT VIOLATIONS

MAN ARRESTED USING DOCTOR’S PRESCRIPTION PAD TO WRITE FRAUDULENT RX’S

So, how do you avoid filling a fraudulent prescription for controlled substances?  Before getting into the nitty gritty, it is important to lay the foundation of standard of care and the corresponding responsibility so pharmacies and pharmacists can evaluate what steps are most likely to mitigate these risks.

As background, federal law states that the primary responsibility for prescribing controlled substances rests with the prescriber.  However, that same law places a “corresponding responsibility” on the pharmacist to assure each prescription is written for a legitimate medical purpose pursuant to a valid patient-prescriber relationship.  21 CFR §1306.04(a).

Under Florida law:

  1. A pharmacist may not dispense a Schedule II-IV controlled substance to any patient or patient’s agent without first determining, in the exercise of her or his professional judgment, that the prescription is valid. F.S. §893.04 (2)(a).
  2. A prescriber or dispenser must consult the prescription drug monitoring system, eForce, to review a patient’s controlled substance dispensing history before prescribing or dispensing a controlled substance.S. §893.055

Once you have a clear understanding of a pharmacist’s liability, you can then consider ways to mitigate the inherent risks in filling controlled substance prescriptions.Continue reading