Most experienced False Claims Act (FCA) practitioners are all too familiar with the statutory provision requiring defendants to pay whistleblowers’ attorneys’ fees at the end of FCA cases. What is less commonly known is the provision that grants defendants their attorneys’ fees in certain circumstances.

One whistleblower learned about that provision the hard way, when on March 14, 2024, a Mississippi federal judge ordered that he pay over $1 million to cover the defendants’ attorneys’ fees, following grant of summary judgment to defendants in what the judge labeled a “frivolous” qui tam. This blog post looks at the case that led to such a large attorneys’ fees award and considers the types of cases in which these efforts are wise.Continue Reading Federal Judge Orders Whistleblower Who Filed a “Frivolous” Qui Tam to Pay Over $1 Million for Defendants’ Attorneys’ Fees

As previously reported in this post, criminal trials premised on upcoding evaluation and management (E/M) service codes are extremely rare. The Justice Department took that rare step in Maryland in connection with a practice in which Dr. Ron Elfenbein, a physician, billed Medicare and private payors a Level 4 E/M for patients receiving COVID-19 tests. That billing practice, which at times took place at drive-through COVID testing centers, resulted in Dr. Elfenbein’s indictment and conviction by a jury in Maryland federal court.

But on December 21, 2023, the federal judge who presided over that trial granted Dr. Elfenbein’s motion for judgment of acquittal, vacating the conviction. These motions are commonly made but seldom granted. Why was this particular motion for acquittal granted? And what can the healthcare community learn from this case? Read on for details.Continue Reading Federal Judge Acquits Physician Following Criminal E/M Fraud Conviction at Trial

Evaluation and management (E/M) services have been called “the core” of healthcare billing.[1] E/M is a catch-all claim, allowing medical professionals to bill for diagnosing or treating nearly any illness or injury. E/M is also divided into fairly subjective levels depending on complexity, and the differences between levels is often merely a difference of opinion. While the DOJ has brought cases based on disputes over E/M services before, those cases are typically civil and part of a more complex upcoding or unbundling scheme.[2] This is because nearly everything involving some effort expended by a physician could arguably justify that physician believing the E/M service was proper, and therefore criminal cases requiring scienter evidence that proves the case beyond a reasonable doubt are incredibly rare.

Yet one of those rare cases went to trial this month.Continue Reading Physician Loses Rare Criminal E/M Fraud Trial

On June 14, 2023, a federal jury found that a Georgia physician knowingly violated the False Claims Act following a two-week trial on allegations that he made false claims to the Medicare Program. Now, despite just $1.1 million in improper payments stemming from false claims, a federal court is likely to impose a judgment that exceeds $27 million after adding statutory per-claim penalties and trebling the amount determined by the jury to be false.Continue Reading Georgia Physician Awaits $27+ Million Judgment Following False Claims Act Trial Loss

Cosmetic surgeries are on the rise. One study of cosmetic surgery data found that body procedures like tummy tucks, buttock augmentation, and liposuction increased by 63 percent from 2020 to 2021.[1] Facelifts were up 54 percent.[2] And breast procedures were up 48 percent.[3] According to that study, Americans spent over $14.6 billion on aesthetic procedures in 2021 with surgical revenues increasing by 63 percent.[4]Continue Reading Justice Department Sues Iowa Surgeon Under False Claims Act for Masking Non-Covered Cosmetic Procedures as Covered Surgeries

On February 27, 2023, a jury in Minnesota federal court rendered a verdict in favor of the United States and against a surgical product distributor following a False Claims Act jury trial that lasted six weeks.[1] The jury identified $43 million in Medicare payments flowing from 64,575 kickback-procured claims.Continue Reading Trial Lost, $400+ Million Liability Looming: Quick Takeaways From a Recent False Claims Act Jury Trial

Hospices and the False Claims Act Series

The False Claims Act (FCA) is the government’s most serious weapon to combat fraud in the healthcare community, and hospices are increasingly the target of FCA investigations and lawsuits. The United States Supreme Court is, for the first time, considering FCA cases involving hospices and certifications of terminal

Success in False Claims Act Lawsuits

In this third episode of the Husch Blackwell Hospice Team’s “Hospice and the False Claims Act” series, Meg Pekarske, Bryan Nowicki, Jody Rudman and Brian Flood discuss the process and path of a False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit. FCA cases are a test of endurance as much as they

On January 10, 2018, citing costs associated with record increases in the number of qui tam actions filed under the False Claims Act, the Department of Justice issued a memorandum[1] to certain DOJ attorneys, strongly signaling the Department’s intent to liberalize its use of section 3730(c)(2)(A) to seek dismissal of qui tam actions.

In the recently leaked memo, Michael Granston, Director of the Fraud Section of DOJ’s Commercial Litigation Branch, outlines “a general framework for evaluating when to seek dismissal” by identifying seven factors that have supported DOJ’s previous successful dismissal requests and emphasizes that the Department views its dismissal authority as one subject only to “highly deferential” review by the courts. The memo suggests DOJ will seek dismissal of these actions more often, making use of its authority to seek dismissal as “an important tool to advance the government’s interests, preserve limited resources, and avoid adverse precedent.” As further indication that the Department intends to pursue aggressively any available means of dismissal of these cases, the Director also recommends asserting in the alternative other independently available grounds for dismissal or requesting partial dismissal where appropriate, and the memo reminds attorneys that dismissal may occur at any stage of the proceedings, depending on the circumstances. The Director also stresses the importance of communication between the DOJ, the affected agency, and relators as a means of encouraging voluntary dismissal.
Continue Reading DOJ Signals More Liberal Exercise of Power to Dismiss Qui Tam Actions under the FCA