DOJ Omnicare/CVS Suit Highlights Potential Pharmacy Benefit Claims Abuse Exposure For Health Plans, Member Safety Risk

December 18, 2019

A civil health care fraud lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York today (December 17, 2019) against the nation’s largest long term care pharmacy provider, Omnicare, and its parent, CVS Healthcare Corporation may signal the advisability for insurers, fiduciaries, administrators and sponsors of insured and self-insured health and other benefit plans providing pharmacy benefits to tighten claims and audit past claims payments for prescription drug claims submitted by Omnicare and other CVS pharmacy providers as well as other pharmacy claims to the pharmacy possessed a valid, current prescription to dispense the drug.

Omnicare Complaint Highlights Potential Prescription Drug Fraud By Billing For Filling Expired Prescriptions

In its U.S. ex rel Bassan complaint in intervention (Omnicare and CVS) complaint DOJ joined by 29 states and the District of Colombia filed suit against Omnicare, and its parent company, CVS Healthcare Corporation for damages and civil penalties under the False Claims Act for fraudulently billing federal healthcare programs for hundreds of thousands of non-controlled prescription drugs that DOJ claims Omnicare illegally dispensed to elderly and disabled individuals in assisted living facilities, group homes, independent living communities, and other non-skilled residential long-term care facilities (“LTC facilities”) without a valid, current prescription..  The States of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District Of Columbia are joining the DOJ in the complaint as co-plaintiffs.

Omnicare is the country’s largest provider of pharmacy services to LTC facilities.  It currently operates approximately 160 pharmacies in 47 states across the United States, which dispense tens of millions of prescription drugs to LTC facilities that serve elderly and disabled individuals.  CVS acquired Omnicare in May 2015, and shortly thereafter assumed an active role in overseeing Omnicare’s operations, including pharmacy dispensing practices and systems.

The DOJ complaint in the Federal District Court in Manhattan, New York charges that Omnicare illegally dispensed and billed the federal government and patients for antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, and antidepressants Omnicare dispensed to elderly and disabled residents in LTC facilities without proper prescriptions.   According to the DOJ complaint from 2010 until 2018, Omnicare and CVS allowed Omnicare pharmacies to dispense non-controlled prescription drugs to tens of thousands of elderly and disabled individuals living in LTC facilities based on prescriptions that had expired, were out of refills, or were otherwise invalid.  Omnicare repeatedly disregarded prescription refill limitations and expiration dates that required doctor visits to reevaluate whether the drug should be renewed.  Instead of requesting new prescriptions when old ones expired, Omnicare allowed prescriptions to “roll over.”  At Omnicare, “rolling over” a prescription meant that when a prescription expired, Omnicare’s computer systems would assign the old prescription a new number and the pharmacy would continue to dispense the drug indefinitely without the need for a prescription renewal.  Depending on the computer system used, DOJ claims Omnicare also sometimes assigned a fake number of authorized refills to a prescription – usually 99 allowable refills for Medicare patients – to allow for continuous refilling.  DOJ claims that Omnicare pharmacies “rolled over” prescriptions for elderly and disabled individuals living in more than 3,000 residential long-term care facilities, including assisted living facilities operated by the largest long-term care providers in the country, such as Brookdale Senior Living, Atria Senior Living, Sunrise Senior Living Services, and Five Star Senior Living. DOJ charges that Omnicare used these practices to refill prescriptions for patients after the required prescription for refill expired for months, and sometimes years, after the prescriptions expired.   The complaint alleged that Omnicare internally referred to these renumbered expired prescriptions as “rollover” prescriptions.

Many of the prescription drugs dispensed by Omnicare without valid prescriptions treat serious, chronic conditions, such as dementia, depression, and heart disease.  They include antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, cardiovascular medications, anti-depressants, and other drugs that can have dangerous side effects and need to be closely monitored by doctors, particularly when taken in combination with other drugs by elderly patients.

DOJ says these Omnicare practices of illegally dispensing drugs to elderly and disabled individuals living in LTC facilities exposed these vulnerable individuals to a significant risk of harm.  In contrast to traditional skilled nursing homes, where residents have access to 24-hour medical care supervised by doctors, assisted living and other non-skilled residential facilities offer more limited medical care, or none at all.  In particular, these LTC facilities generally do not have doctors on staff to oversee and monitor residents’ drug therapy.  By repeatedly dispensing potent drugs without current and valid prescriptions, Omnicare jeopardized the health and safety of tens of thousands of individuals who continued to take the same drugs for months, and sometimes years, without consulting their doctors to determine whether the medications were still clinically appropriate.

A large percentage of the long-term care residents served by Omnicare are beneficiaries of federal healthcare programs. The complaint charges that along with illegally filling the expired prescriptions, Omnicare knowingly transmitted false information to these federal healthcare programs that made it appear that drug dispensations were supported by current, valid prescriptions from physicians when in fact they were not.   By dispensing drugs without valid prescriptions, Omnicare presented, or caused to be presented, hundreds of thousands of false claims to Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE that were ineligible for payment in violation of the False Claims Act.  In fact, the complaint charges that Omnicare managers exerted pressure on overwhelmed pharmacy staff to fill prescriptions quickly so that Omnicare could submit claims and collect payments on these rollover claims.

Moreover, DOJ says that it possesses evidence that senior management at Omnicare and CVS knew of the practices.  The DOJ complaint charges among other things that the Omnicare’s Compliance Department succinctly acknowledged the problem in an internal April 2015 email in which one Regional Compliance Officer stated:  “An issue that I am running into more and more in multiple states concerns the ability of our systems to allow prescriptions to continue to roll after a year to a new prescription number without any documentation or pharmacist intervention.”  A compliance officer then forwarded the email to the head of Omnicare’s Third Party Audit group, who responded that she had a “potential solution (programmed last year) but no one is rolling it out now.”

In today’s announcement of the lawsuit, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “As alleged, Omnicare put at risk the health of tens of thousands of elderly and disabled individuals living in assisted living and other residential long-term care facilities by dispensing drugs for months, and sometimes years, without obtaining current, valid prescriptions from doctors.  A pharmacy’s fundamental obligation is to ensure that drugs are dispensed only under the supervision of treating doctors who monitor patients’ drug therapies.  Omnicare blatantly ignored this obligation in favor of pushing drugs out the door as quickly as possible to make more money.  This Office will continue to hold accountable those who put at risk people’s health and safety just to turn a profit.”

Meanwhile, HHS-OIG Special Agent in Charge Scott J. Lampert said:  “Failing to consult doctors as to whether prescriptions should be refilled places patients’ health and medical care at serious risk.  These automatic rollover refills could have significant consequences for vulnerable people in long term-care facilities.  We will continue working with law enforcement partners to protect people depending on these taxpayer-funded government health programs.”

Charges Suggest Potential Advisability For Plan Audit of Prescription Drug Charges To Confirm Supported By Valid Prescription For Dispensed Drugs

The charges made in the complaint filed against Omnicare highlight an area of claims payment eligibility not regularly verified by many pharmacy benefit and other health claims administrators when administering pharmacy benefit claims- the existence of a current valid prescription to support the dispensation of the billed prescription medication.  Except for pain management and certain other medications flagged by regulators or benefit systems as subject to heightened abuse risks, many plan administrators regularly take for granted existence of a current, valid script for many common, frequently issued and renewed, low cost prescriptions issued within frequency and other guidelines based upon the assumption that legal and ethical obligations of pharmacists and pharmacies under licensing, Drug Enforcement Agency and other rules generally provides adequate deterrence against abuses like those the DOJ accuses Omnicare of engaging in its complaint.  However, growing corporate or other nonprofessional ownership or management of pharmacies and their management coupled with very limited, virtually all complaint driven oversight of federal and state regulatory and ethical agencies is diminishing the frequency and effectiveness of such oversight.  As evidenced by the Omnicare complaint, scrupulous pharmacies may leverage opportunities allowed by this limited oversight to dispense and bill for commonly renewed prescription medication without proper orders in a manner that potentially places patients at risk at the expense of plans and their participants, beneficiaries, sponsors and insurers.  Plans, insurers, fiduciaries, plan sponsors and administrators concerned about these risks may want to use the Omnicare lawsuit announcement as an opportunity to educate plan members and their caregivers about the importance of monitoring prescriptions, their refills and claims for abuse; audit and encourage plan members and their caregivers of members with claims paid with respect to Omnicare and other pharmacy claims’ and take other steps to assess the adequacy and tighten as appropriate their existing pharmacy benefit review procedures for verification of the existence of a current, valid prescription to mitigate these exposures.  These exposures are further heightened by the widespread practice of outsourcing of pharmacy claims to prescription benefit management or other speciality pharmacy claims providers in many health plan designs including vendoirsand service providers owned or managed by parents or related companies of the pharmacy filling and billing for the scripts.

Health plan fiduciaries, administrators and sponsors that discover potential deficiencies in the validity of a prescription or other elements of a received or previously paid prescription benefit or other claim are cautioned to review and follow the applicable ERISA and for insured plans, state insurance, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) and contractual claims and appeals timelines and processes.  Failure to follow these requirements can undermine the enforceability of plan remedies as well as expose the plan, its insurer or fiduciary to administrative penalties and other liabilities.  Additionally, violations of the ACA mandated procedures also  in the case of employment based plans also could expose  the sponsoring employer or ubnion to liability for self reporting, self-assessment and payment of penalties under Internal Revenue Code Section 6039D.  Where relevant regulatory or contractual time periods for  denial have already expired either because the claim already was paid or the analysis otherwise was not timely completed in time to meet the deadline, plans may need to rely upon filing health care fraud or other avenues of relief in lieu of attempting to retroactively deny and recoup the questioned amounts in order to avoid violating the ACA and other rules.  Plan fiduciaries and administrators also may need to consider the applicability of offering  review by an independent medical review organization to fulfill ACA or other similar mandatesfor medical judgement based determinations.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about this or other labor and employment developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

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About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.  As a part of this work, she has continuously and extensively worked with domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; EMR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, self-insured health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers and other payers, health industry advocacy and other service providers and groups and other health and managed care industry clients as well as federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies.

Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her decades-long leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and other privacy and data security and other health industry legal, public policy and operational concerns.  This  involvement encompasses helping health care systems and organizations, group and individual health care providers, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients prevent, investigate, manage and resolve  sexual assault, abuse, harassment and other organizational, provider and employee misconduct and other performance and behavior; manage Section 1557, Civil Rights Act and other discrimination and accommodation, and other regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; contracting and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other payers and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other technology,  data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, ant kickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care;  internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns. to establish, administer and defend workforce and staffing, quality, and other compliance, risk management and operational practices, policies and actions; comply with requirements; investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry actions: regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement;  and other strategic and operational concerns.

Author of leading works on HIPAA and a multitude of other health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

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