New Health Plan Partnership, Data Sharing With Federal Health Care Fraud Enforcers Promises Greater Federal Oversight of Providers & Health Plans

Health care providers and payers should ensure that practices for billing private payers can withstand the scrutiny of federal and state health care fraud enforcers after the July 26, 2012 announcement of a ground-breaking new public-private antifraud initiative between federal and state health care fraud fighters and a private insurers under which  private insurers will share an unprecedented amount of private health claims data, fraud detection practices, and other coöperation with federal and state official fraud prevention and prosecution efforts.  While the partnership signals a new opportunity for health plans to secure federal support if their efforts to monitor and address suspected health care fraud impacting private health plans, private payers also should keep in mind that federal fraud prosecutors also are likely to use the data and information gleened from the partnership to identify and redress noncompliance by private health plans with federal Medicare and other federal program secondary payor, nondiscrimination and other coordination of benefits requirements; Affordable Care Act and other federal benefit, coverage and eligibility requirements and other applicable rules.  Accordingly, even while anticipating greater support by federal agencies in the fight against fraud affecting private payers, health insurers and other private health plans also should tighten their practices to prepare for heightened scrutiny and enforcement by federal officials of federal health plan rules.

Government Health Care Fraud Fighters Partner With Private Insurers

The Federal health care fraud fighting departmental duo of the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) Justice (DOJ) last week expanded their network of fraud fighting resources by launching a “ground-breaking” partnership among the federal government, State officials, several leading private health insurance organizations, and other health care anti-fraud groups to prevent health care fraud. HHS and DOJ say the following organizations and government agencies are among the first to join this partnership:

  • America’s Health Insurance Plans
  • Amerigroup Corporation
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
  • Coalition Against Insurance Fraud
  • Federal Bureau of Investigations
  • Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General
  • Humana Inc.
  • Independence Blue Cross
  • National Association of Insurance Commissioners
  • National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units
  • National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association
  • National Insurance Crime Bureau 
  • New York Office of Medicaid Inspector General
  • Travelers
  • Tufts Health Plan
  • UnitedHealth Group
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • U.S. Department of Justice
  • WellPoint, Inc.

HHS & DOJ Say Partnering With Private Insurers Will Give Ongoing Anti-Fraud Efforts Even More Punch

In announcing the new partnership on July 26, 2012, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder touted this new voluntary, collaborative public-private arrangement as the “next step” in the Obama administration’s efforts to combat health care fraud.

“This partnership is a critical step forward in strengthening our nation’s fight against health care fraud,” said Attorney General Holder.  “This Administration has established a record of success in combating devastating fraud crimes, but there is more we can and must do to protect patients, consumers, essential health care programs, and precious taxpayer dollars.  Bringing additional health care industry leaders and experts into this work will allow us to act more quickly and effectively in identifying and stopping fraud schemes, seeking justice for victims, and safeguarding our health care system.”

 “This partnership puts criminals on notice that we will find them and stop them before they steal health care dollars,” Secretary Sebelius said.  “Thanks to this initiative today and the anti-fraud tools that were made available by the health care law, we are working to stamp out these crimes and abuse in our health care system.”

Partnership Allows Feds To Use Private Payer Claims Data, Knowledge & Other Fraud Detection Resources

According to HHS and DOJ, the new partnership is designed to share information and best practices in order to improve detection and prevent payment of fraudulent health care billings. Its goal is to reveal and halt scams that cut across a number of public and private payers. HHS and DOJ say the partnership will private insurers to share their anti-fraud insights more easily with investigators, prosecutors, policymakers and other stakeholders and law enforcement officials more effectively to identify and prevent suspicious activities, better protect patients’ confidential information and use the full range of tools and authorities provided by the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) and other statutes to combat and prosecute illegal actions.

One unprecedented element of this partnership will involve the sharing of information on specific schemes, utilized billing codes and geographical fraud hotspots between the public and private partners.  The partners say the planned sharing of claims data and other information will help partners prevent, detect and respond to potential health care billing fraud by:

  • Helping partners to take action, to prevent losses to both government and private health plans before they occur;
  • Improving their ability to spot and stop payments billed to different insurers for care delivered to the same patient on the same day in two different cities;
  • In the future to use sophisticated technology and analytics on industry-wide healthcare data to predict and detect health care fraud schemes. 

Presumably, this will involve the extension of the use of state-of-the-art technology and data mining practices like those the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) already uses to review claims, to track suspected fraud trends and flag suspected fraudulent activity.

Partnership Expands Use & Reach of New Affordable Care Act & Other Health Care Fraud Detection & Enforcement Tools & Collaboration

The partnership builds upon and extends the reach and use of expanded legal tools created by the Affordable Care Act and other laws that Federal and state officials are using in their highly publicized war against health care fraud, waste and abuse in Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and, increasingly, private insurance plans.  Using these and other new tools, convictions under the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program increased by over 27% (583 to 743) between 2009 and 2011, and the number of defendants facing criminal charges filed by federal prosecutors in 2011 increased by 74% compared with 2008 (1,430 vs. 821).

The Affordable Care Act and other legislative changes and related programs have significantly strengthened the powers of HHS, DOJ and other federal and state agencies to investigate and prosecute health care fraud.  Among other things, these amendments and programs include:

  • Qui tam and other whistleblower incentives and programs that encourage employees, patients, competitors and others to report suspicious behavior;
  • Require providers, plans to self-identify, self-report and self-correct false claims and certain other non-compliance;
  • Increase the federal sentencing guidelines for health care fraud offenses by 20-50% for crimes that involve more than $1 million in losses;
  • Create penalties for obstructing a fraud investigation or audit;
  • Make it easier for the government to recapture any funds acquired through fraudulent practices;
  • Make it easier for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate potential fraud or wrongdoing at facilities like nursing homes;
  • Under the risk-based provider enrollment rules, providers and suppliers wishing to take part in Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP who federal officials view as posing a higher risk of fraud or abuse now must undergo licensure checks, site visits and other heightened scrutiny including ongoing monitoring as part of the new Automated Provider Screening (APS) system CMS implemented in December 2011.  The APS uses existing information from public and private sources to automatically and continuously verify information submitted on a provider’s Medicare enrollment application including licensure status Secretary to impose a temporary moratorium on newly enrolling providers or suppliers of a particular type or in certain geographic areas if necessary to prevent or combat fraud, waste, and abuse. 
  • Increased information sharing and coördination of investigations and enforcement among states, CMS, and its law enforcement partners at the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and DOJ including the highly publicized activities of the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), a joint effort between HHS and DOJ to fight health care fraud.
  • The power of CMS, in consultation with OIG, to suspend Medicare payments and require States to suspend Medicaid and SCHIP payments to providers or suppliers during the investigation of a credible allegation of fraud;
  • The deployment and use of the sophisticated data collection and mining technologies of CMS’ new Fraud Prevention System, which since June 30, 2011 has used advanced predictive modeling technology to screen all Medicare fee-for-service claims before payment and target investigative resources on areas that this profile identifies as reflecting heightened risks of health care fraud vulnerability to allow regulators and prosecutors to more efficiently identify and respond to suspected fraudulent claims and emerging trends;
  • Focused fraud prevention, detection and enforcement activities on Home Health agencies, Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies (DMEPOS) suppliers and certain other categories of providers and suppliers that federal officials view as historically presenting heightened concerns;
  • Expansion of the overpayment detection and recovery activities ofthe Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) program to Medicaid, Medicare Advantage, and Medicare Part D programs; and
  • Various other tools.

Health Plan Partnership Latest Wrinkle In Fed’s Efforts To Use Private Whistleblower & Other Resources To Find Fraud

The partnership with the health plans is the latest wrinkle in a growing network of private relationships and outreach that HHS and DOJ use to discover health care fraud.  By partnering with health plans, HHS and DOJ have recruited the health plans to help federal officials find and redress potential fraud in public and private health plans. 

HHS and DOJ already know the value of getting private citizens to watch for and report suspected illegal behavior.  Indeed, extended qui tam and other whistleblower activities already are paying off big for federal officials.  For example, a former executive’s qui tam claim helped bring about the settlement announced in June, 2012 under which Christus Spohn Health System Corporation recently  paid more than $5 million to settle Justice Departmentclaims that it profited from violations of the False Claims Act by inappropriately admitted patients to inpatient status for outpatient procedures.  The investigation leading to the settlement began in March 2008 after Christus – Shoreline’s former director of case management filed a lawsuit under seal under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act alleging the six hospitals were submitting false claims to the Medicare program by billing for services that should have been performed on an outpatient basis as if they were more expensive inpatient services. The allegations stated that these hospitals were routinely billing outpatient surgical procedures as if they required an inpatient level of care even though the patients often were discharged from the hospital in less than 24 hours.   The federal False Claims Act empowers private citizens with knowledge of fraud against the United States to present those allegations to the United States by bringing a lawsuit on behalf of the United States under seal. If the government’s investigation substantiates those allegations, then the private citizen is entitled to share in any recovery. In this case, that person will receive 20% of the $5,100,481.74 recovery.   

With qui tam and other reports of suspected fraud an increasingly frequent and valuable tool in the federal and state wars on health care fraud, officials have added a wide range of programs encouraging and in some cases financially rewarding individuals and businesses that report circumstances leading to fraud convictions.  The partnership with health plans reflects the latest wrinkle in these efforts.

Health Plans Also Targeted For Federal Health Care Fraud & Other Enforcement

While welcoming federal efforts in their private war against health care fraud, private health insurers and other payers also need to prepare to defend their own practices against a separate but equally determined wave of federal enforcement of federal health plan laws against payers. 

The debate leading up to and activities of the Obama Administration since the passage of the Affordable Care Act make clear that health plans also stand in the line of fire for enforcement by federal health care officials.  With alleged excesses and abuses by health plans among the leading arguments used by administration officials and Congressional supporters to justify the passage of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance reforms, it should come as no surprise that federal regulators are aggressively moving to enforce federal health care regulations against health plans and insurers.

For instance, the Obama Administration has been very aggressive in its implementation of  the “Medical Loss Ratio,”  “Rate Review” and other features of the health care law it touts as holding insurers accountable and has widely publicized its efforts to use these provisions to force insurers to forego rate increases and make other changes.   Recent audits of Medicare Advantage and other private health plans and payers by the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) have identified several areas of concern, according to OIG.   OIG in February, 2012 issued a publication entitled Medicare Advantage Organizations’ Identification of Potential Fraud and Abuse that reports flawed performance by Medicare Advantage plans under both Part C and Part D with regard to the measurement, detection and implementation of corrective action and referral of potentially fraudulent or abusive practices. The report notes a “lack of common understanding of key fraud and abuse program terms and raise questions about whether all MA organizations are implementing their programs to detect and address potential fraud and abuse effectively.”  See also e.g. Medicare Advantage Plans’ Fraud Oversight Weak, Says OIG.

Medicare Advantage Plans are not the only plans targeted for enforcement.  For many years, CMS, the Department of Defense and other agencies have been stepping up oversight and enforcement of federal rules that prohibit discrimination by health plans against individuals also covered by Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, PIP, Department of Defense TRICARE and other federal programs and requiring these plans to pay benefits primary to government program benefits.  Sophisticated new electronic data reporting rules are enhancing the enforceability of these rules.

Meanwhile, private health plans also face increased exposures for noncompliance with other laws.  As currently interpreted by the Internal Revenue Service, employer or other sponsors of group health plans that fail to comply with the portability rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA), mental health parity, medical coverage continuation mandates of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) or Michelle’s Law, the genetic nondiscrimination requirements of the Genetic Information & Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and a host of other laws have an obligation under Internal Revenue Code Section 5001 to self-det eect, self-report and self-assess and pay excise tax penalties even as these plans face federal civil liability from Employee Benefit Security Administration, HHS and private plaintiff actions.  As the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, agency officials responsible for the enforcement of these laws are promising  stepped up enforcement of these and other federal health plan regulations.

Health Care Providers & Health Plans Both Must Act To Manage Risks & Compliance

In response to the growing emphasis and effectiveness of Federal officials in investigating and taking action against health care providers  and payers, both health plans and health care providers should take  proper steps to help prevent, detect and timely redress health care fraud and other noncompliance exposures within their organization and to position their organization to respond and defend against potential investigations or charges.  In light of the growing qui tam risks, these activities should include both comprehensive compliance review and oversight, as well as tightened internal investigation, exit interview and other human resources and business partner oversight, reporting and investigation policies and practices to help find and redress potential fraud or other qui tam, retaliation and similar  exposures early and more effectively.  

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials concerning regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns. 

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and registerto receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:


©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.

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