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Posts tagged ‘Medicare Fraud’

Company 1


Take heed

Suzanne May, age 61, served as the administrator of a hospice referred to by the Feds as Company 1 for more than a decade She was a both a registered nurse and a certified hospice administrator. She signed a plea deal admitting to fraud on December 3, 2019 and now faces five years in prison followed by three years supervised release, a $250,000.00 fine and to top it off, a $100.00 special assessment. Hopefully, her lawyer can negotiate a deal where the special assessment is knocked off of the overall penalties.

Altering Legal Documents

To keep it short and simple unlike the official documents, Ms. May has admitted to:

  1. Using white-out on a Certificate of Terminal Illness. If you can’t figure out why that might be a problem, it’s best that you resign now.
  2. Adding dates to Notices of Election after the clinical records were requested from Medicare. I do not know how Federal Investigators knew when the dates were added.
  3. Ms. May relieved some patients of the burden of initialing forms by adding their dated initials to forms. The Feds are alleging that it is not possible to sign and date documents after death.

In an impressive display of organizational skills, Company 1 employees, led by Ms. May, kept a log of all changes made to the documents after the request for records was received.

This audit, performed in 2017, followed a 2015 audit in which close to $400,000 was returned to Medicare. As a certified hospice administrator Ms. May knew what was required of the hospice in order to be paid. And, to her credit, she made sure every detail was complete but only after her clinical records were requested by Medicare. Timing is everything.

Look Again

This post teaches you how to go to jail. Free meals, a warm place to sleep and a break from your needy relatives may be your ticket to jolly holidays. Surely the worst prison food is better than fruit cake and squash casserole.

In no way am I condoning the actions of Ms. May. I also recognize that the criteria for payment is sometimes preposterous. Claims for reasonable and necessary care provided to eligible beneficiaries are denied payment every day but that is a subject for another post.

In this case no patients were harmed as a result of Ms. May’s actions. Nobody dies from a date added to a document after they die. If jail is your ideal vacation, this seems to be the way to go if you don’t want any patients to be hurt along the way.

If you wish to remain home with your loved ones, I assure you that no matter how tempting it is to add a date to a form because the patient didn’t, and you know the correct date and personally witnessed the patient sign the form, it isn’t worth it. When a physician doesn’t date his or her signature and you know when the orders were signed, adding the date seems more like a courtesy than a felony but you would be wrong in making that assumption.

If this sort of behavior was evident on a state survey and a plan of correction to the state was required, it would probably include an educational piece like, ‘The DON will hold an inservice to teach the nurses things that they already know but didn’t do.’

If you are finding these problems during clinical record and billing review despite teaching the nurses repeatedly it’s time to try something new.

Cut your employees some slack. Home health and hospice nurses who provide excellent care to your patients are worth a little extra time. Review their paperwork with them as it arrives at the agency – which usually occurs before the time (and possibly the patient) has passed to get an ethically dated signature. Help them develop habits.

On the other hand, if a nurse blatantly commits fraud, investigate first and then terminate them. You are also obligated to report them to Medicare and their State Board. A good orientation will ensure they know the rules. Protect your nurses and the agency by providing a complete orientation including compliance. 

Do not bill (or alternatively, pay back the money) if you have found out that a nurse was taking shortcuts. It is painful to take the right steps but not as painful as the quarter million fine Ms. May will pay (plus the assessment fee).

If you are a visiting nurse, you know the rules. You know what to do and mostly you get it right but it only takes a couple of bad care plans or notices of election to cost an agency tens of thousands of dollars.

More concerning to me is the probability that some nurses are encouraged to ‘do what it takes’ to get billing out the door. Without using the words, ‘go commit fraud’, some employers leave employees feeling like their jobs are on the line if they hold up billing. If you feel that the only way to keep your job is to fill in the blanks omitted by a patient or a physician, I guarantee that unemployment is a better option.

Everything else aside, ask how Medicare knew the documents were altered by Ms. May and friends after the patient died. The Feds are not psychic. They did not have a seance summoning J. Edgar Hoover who revealed the exact time that dates were placed on documents. They obviously knew something that was solid enough for them to request 100 charts.

I’m willing to bet that Company 1 is not the real name of the hospice and that this story has just begun. Until we find out more, do yourself and your patients a favor and do things the right way. If you are preoccupied with compiling charts for an audit, care to your patients will be compromised. I’ve seen it too many times.

As always, your comments are welcome or you can email your thoughts.

Turning Point


My understanding of the events that shook my world last night is that they began before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.   Although I am not certain of this, it seems that an investigation into Abide Home Health began prior to the storms but the evidence was washed out to sea.   I can’t say if that’s true or not but it adds a level of interest to the story knowing that the agency had a new chance to do things right and chose not to do so.

The case involved over 20 defendants, illicit sex, a dash of racism, the mother of a prominent football player (The Honey Badger), a large oil company and two Zulu Queens.  For those of you not from the South, Zulu is a Mardi Gras parade and they were Carnival Royalty. This is a big deal in New Orleans social circles.

To be sure, this case was juicy.

Imagine for a minute that you are one Lisa Crinel involved in a romantic relationship with your lawyer when a search warrant is executed relating to a fraud investigation involving your business.  Imagine if it was signed by a federal judge who was married to your lawyer.  Now imagine that you are the lawyer when Lisa Crinel files a lawsuit alleging that the lawyer ‘“never informed Ms. Crinel that it was a conflict of interest for him to represent her and her company while carrying on an extramarital affair with her….”   Yes, indeed.  How else could she have known?  I’m betting the judge was unaware of the affair when she signed the search warrant because it didn’t include a cavity search.

For some people, Medicare fraud isn’t enough.  The original press release from the US attorney’s office in Eastern Louisiana alleges that Lisa Crinel created false documentation to support claims for two employees and her daughter so that they could collect money from the funds provided by BP to compensate real victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  Classy.

Moving right along, Ms. Crinel had already lost 1M to the feds who seized her property even before she was indicted.  This was interpreted by Lisa Crinel as being racially motivated because they did not seize the property of another Medicare defendant accused of the same crime.    I believe there is a possibility that something, other than race motivated that decision.  Could there have been a previous overpayment?  How strong were her ties to the community?  I have to admit, a beach in a country without extradition might have appealed to me if I were in that position.   I sincerely hope that federal investigators did not simply seize her property and bank accounts with no good reason prior to the indictment because in spite of mountains of evidence, Ms. Crinel was innocent until proven guilty.

The Turning Point

In October of 2015, Lisa Crinel woke up with a newly calibrated moral compass.  In exchange for a lighter sentence of no more than 8 years and an agreement from the Assistant US Attorney that all felony charges be dropped against her daughter who served as CEO, she pleaded guilty.  She explained her decision, ‘because I am in fact guilty, and because I did not want to put the government through the unnecessary expense and trouble of proving this in court. I also pled guilty because I understand that accepting responsibility for the wrongs that I have done is the first step toward correcting them.”

Of course, she also agreed to provide the prosecutors with any truthful cooperation in any way she could.  According to Ms. Crinel, this was a genuine personal turning point for her, not just a legal one.  Yes.  That’s what she said.

The Sad Part

Last night, four doctors were convicted of multiple counts of Medicare fraud.  The longest possible sentence I saw was 170 years although the sentencing date has not been set. yet.  Are they guilty?  I think they are.  I still don’t know all of the details but the Feds don’t lose.   They knew this case was their’s for the winning when they took it on.  They turn away far more cases than they accept and the do not indict until they are certain they have a case.

Of the four, I know one mainly through his office staff.  I know that he was with his grandson who was receiving chemo when his office was raided.  I do not believe this was an accident because I’ve heard too many other stories about the feds arriving when the targets of their investigation were least available.  I have followed behind this doctor and another and read their clinic and hospital documentation for years.  The truth is that they are razor sharp physicians who are responsive to their patients and the nurses who call them for orders.

They are basically good men.

So, what happened? One doc received $3,500.00 a month from the agency – $1,000.00 more than would be allowed by law assuming he worked for the paycheck.  None of the doctors were poor and they all made more money than most people reading this blog.

My anger towards the owner of the agency is what I hang on to while these questions still linger.  Lisa Crinel owned Abide Home Health.  Her daughter was the CEO.  They wrote and signed checks that went to physicians.  They paid a physician’s wife an inflated salary so that her husband would refer patients.

Did the docs approach her asking for a Medical Director position?  I bet they were approached by Lisa Crinel.  And what they saw was a successful business woman in New Orleans – an economic nightmare since the storms in 2006.  They saw someone who had overcome the odds and lived well.  They signed orders because she or her agents asked.  Did they trust that the orders were legitimate?

Did they get a little greedy rationalizing that the dollar amount of money may be technically fraud but they deserved it?

These physicians could not have realized they were risking what may amount to life sentences for the relatively small amount of money they received.  But that doesn’t matter.  The standard isn’t what you know but rather what a reasonable person in the same position has the responsibility to know.

Lisa Crinel had the jewels and cash paid for by the proceeds of the fraud.  She was a New Orleans socialite; queen of Zulu.  She was a leader of the community and she lead dozens of her followers to the jailhouse.  While the physicians earned most of their money providing care to patients, she stole all her money by committing fraud.  And when she ran out of lawyers available for affairs and the BP scheme fell flat and nobody would believe that her African American heritage was the reason the feds were picking on her, she turned on the very people she recruited to participate in her fraud scheme.  I’m not sure I have any respect for her.

And New Orleans has lost two great physicians and two more that may or may not be great.  I’m not disagreeing with the verdict but I still find it sad.   The jury found them guilty and I trust the jury.  But they are guilty of fraud; not of being scumbags who systematically scheme to steal as much as they can from the government.   Sometimes good people break the law.

A Memorable Comment


Two years ago, I posted about Beverly Cooper who was convicted of multiple counts of fraud and was facing up to a ten-year sentence in Federal Prison.  See Press Release.   She admitted to signing visit notes when unlicensed personnel made the visits giving the impression that she made the visits; among other things – lots of other things.  Signing off on a visit that was made by someone without a license could have easily proved deadly to a patient.  Maybe Ms. Cooper is lucky that she didn’t kill someone.

Today, I received a message from someone, apparently a friend of Ms. Cooper’s pointing out that nowhere in the indictment (or my blog post) was Ms. Cooper’s 15-hour work days or dying relative noted.  The writer asked if I knew how wonderful Beverly Cooper was and pointed out that everybody makes mistakes.

Frankly, it would not surprise me if Ms. Cooper was a good hearted, likable woman.  Unlike less sophisticated crime, fraud on this scale is usually committed by people who are genuinely likable.

The writer of the message mentioned other people involved in the indictment.  She wanted to know why I didn’t mention them as well.  Frankly, they were not included in the press release.  Furthermore, Ms. Cooper was a Registered Nurse.   This blog is all about nursing and nurses and those who occupy our worlds.  That’s why Ms. Cooper made the blog post list.

I don’t know the person who wrote me the email and I never have met Ms. Cooper before.  I was nowhere near Detroit where all of this took place.  I cannot begin to speculate on what might have happened.  But, I can make reasonable assumptions based upon the criminal cases I have worked with and some former clients.

  1. Cooper was likely tired and emotionally fragile based upon what the writer said. Masterminds of fraud are incredibly smooth at exploiting the weaknesses of others.  She likely was not the mastermind.
  2. My bet is that Ms. Cooper was paid far more than an RN in a similar position. Should someone offer you twice as much as you are making now, be aware.  You are not worth that much.
  3. Cooper may have convinced herself or have been convinced that ‘everyone does it’. Wrongo.
  4. There may be somebody in the mix who could be legitimately diagnosed as a sociopath. Being without a conscience is mission critical to projecting the confidence required to persuade accomplices to achieve your purposes.
  5. I would bet the farm that at some point long before her arrest, Cooper figured out that she was committing fraud and had to make a decision. It could have been loyalty to her employer, a need for money, fear of extortion or just greed that convinced her to stay.  Sometimes, folks are too overwhelmed to think about a major life change.
  6. If this case was even remotely similar to other cases, the agency was investigated for years prior to an arrest. Beverly Cooper and her co-conspirators may have become complacent since there was so much time between the investigation and the arrest.

Let me reiterate that I do not know anything about these people.  They are not the usual fraudsters in Louisiana where we have enough home grown fraud that I don’t have to go looking in places like Detroit.  I have met many others who have faced a similar circumstance; enough to make assumptions.  I have enjoyed their company and worked hard for them and their lawyers and I took their money for my services.  But, when a clear pattern of fraud exists, there is nothing that I can do.  Criminal attorneys are brought to their knees trying to find a defense for their clients when there is none.   These are not thuggish criminals.  They are well dressed, well spoken professionals who say and do all the right things.

Your task if you are reading this is to know what a compliant agency looks like so you can find one to work with or create one to attract the kind of talent that you need to bring your agency to the next level.

The compliant agency:

  • Makes a lot of mistakes – it may seem like even more because they talk about mistakes, bring them out in the open and find ways to avoid repeat mistakes.
  • Has a lot of information scattered around the office about a code of conduct, employee hotlines and compliance committees.
  • Welcomes questions as a door for teaching.
  • Makes sure that employees have an anonymous way to report fraud.
  • Takes reports of fraud offered in good faith seriously.
  • Provides far more education in fraud than anyone wants.
  • Looks at processes and doesn’t blame employees for mistakes that involve multiple people and departments. There’s plenty of time to blame others if it happens again.  Fix it and move on.

Mistakes are costly to be sure but not nearly so much as hiding mistakes.  If you inadvertently make a mistake that affects billing and are fired after reporting it, smile on your way out of the door.  You don’t want to be there.  The agency has just sent a message to everyone else that they have a zero tolerance policy for mistakes and future mistakes will be hidden away.

Ms. Cooper may have been caught up in a storm she could not escape.  She may have discounted her actions as inconsequential or have been convinced she would never be caught.  She has lost her family, her marriage and her job according to the person who emailed me today.  She is completely without dignity.  On top of all of that, she is facing jail time.

I can’t help but feel compassion for her but more importantly, I am bound and determined to give all of you who take the time out of your day to read my blog the information you need to avoid a similar fate.  Unemployment is not half as bad as jail.

The 150M Settlement


It doesn’t make me feel good to know that Amedisys has had an exceptionally poor quarter and has tentatively entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice for a 150M settlement. I admit I am a little curious about the reference to The Stark Self-Referral Matter referenced in Amedisys’s press release but not overly disturbed. What disheartens me is that I am no longer surprised by the fact that when I searched the Internet for information, there were hundreds of results that all reported on the stock price.  Nobody stopped to wonder how a 150M dollar settlement would affect the care that Amedisys is supposed to be providing to patients.

Does this mean that I do not agree with the settlement? I don’t know all the details but I think that if the Federal government is going to get between Amedisys and that much cash, a legitimate question arises about their ability to care for patients and compete in an overcrowded market.

Amedisys is clear that in paying 150M to the government that they are not admitting any wrongdoing. I do not believe that they are willingly entering into this agreement because they couldn’t figure out what to do with extra cash. Not admitting wrongdoing is not the same as denying any wrongdoing. If they stayed out of the grey areas, I suspect they would be more than willing to pay a fraction of that to good defense lawyers.

While I don’t know the specifics of the settlement, I do know that it takes a lot of money to care for patients. I may find a bullet in my head in the morning but I strongly believe that if Amedisys is to pay 150M to the feds then Amedisys should no longer be afforded the privilege of billing Medicare. There is no shortage of stellar, high performing agencies who could pick up the slack and most of these smaller players would have never been given another chance by Medicare.

Alternatively, if they have been assessed as compliant and capable of caring for patients then the feds should lessen the penalty to an amount that does not interfere with patient care.

Just sayin……

A Gross Distortion of Truth


Implemented in 2011 as part of the ACA, the Face-to-Face requirement was mandated as a way to prevent Medicare fraud.  Well known cases of fraud involved agencies paying physicians who have never seen a patient to sign orders.  The best known case is that of Jacques Roy in Texas who defrauded the government of 450M by running an orders signing factory. There are more cases like this but these agencies are in the minority.  Although it is inconvenient at times, it should not be too difficult to satisfy this requirement to prevent additional fraud and abuse.

    1. The documentation must include the date when the physician or allowed NPP saw the patient, and a brief narrative composed by the certifying physician who describes how the patient’s clinical condition as seen during that encounter supports the patient’s homebound status and need for skilled services.
    2. The certifying physician must document the encounter either on the certification, which the physician signs and dates, or a signed addendum to the certification. It may be written or typed.
    3. It is acceptable for the certifying physician to dictate the documentation content to one of the physician’s support personnel to type. It is also acceptable for the documentation to be generated from a physician’s electronic health record.
    4. It is unacceptable for the physician to verbally communicate the encounter to the HHA, where the HHA would then document the encounter as part of the certification for the physician to sign.

I received a copy of a face-to-face document last week and posted it below.  This patient has Parkinson’s disease, congestive heart failure and chronic pain.

image

As many of you can guess, it was denied.  Nobody doubts that the patient was eligible for services or that the services provided were reasonable and necessary.  The physician saw the patient on the 26th as indicated in the documentation and also daily while he was hospitalized.  Physical therapy was indicated as the reason for services in a section of the document I could not clip without revealing personal health care information.

So why was payment denied for this patient who met eligibility requirements and received much needed covered services?  The physician did  not write a ‘narrative’ because the silly doctor thought it was self evident why someone with diagnoses of pain, Parkinson’s Disease, congestive heart failure who kept falling despite use of an assist device was confined to the home.

This particular document was appealed recently so it was easy to find but I have scores of them in my computer from numerous clients from all over.  And most will be denied.

Medicare states:

The face to face requirement ensures that the orders and certification for home health services are based on a physician’s current knowledge of the patient’s clinical condition

Nobody could possibly have more knowledge of the above patient’s condition than the physician who saw the patient daily in the hospital and then signed a face to face document.  Shame on that physician for failing to use verbs and pretty language to describe the patient better.  Perhaps he thought the document to which the face-to-face encounter was attached would be read.  Wrongo.  As with all statutory denials, the work is over when the claim is denied.  Why take your time to read an entire chart or even the care plan if the claim does not meet billing requirements.

Adding to this are the thousands of face to face encounters that meet all requirements and are denied regardless.  When this happens, an appeal is sent to the QIC (the next level of appeal) and often the QIC finds that the face to face encounter did satisfy all requirements but another reason for denial is found.  This tactic essentially robs the agency of one level of the appeals process.  

After working in post acute care for all these years, my faith lies in home health and hospice.  We have not lived up to our potential as a sub segment of the industry, but we are getting closer every day.  It will be a moot point when congress and other policy makers hear information painting a picture of our industry as blatantly fraudulent and unable to follow even the simplest regulation designed to prevent fraud.  That is my concern.  We will be somehow be left behind as new budgets are developed and our reputation is tarnished.

And to this day, I believe that if we did live up to our potential, congress would be lining up to ask how we wanted to be paid instead of  dismissing us as criminals in scrubs.  We will never live up to our potential as long as education, consulting, inservicing budgets are dedicated to teaching nurses how to review the face to face document to fund payroll.

Most importantly, I want copies of all face to face documents that have been denied if you don’t mind sharing.  You can sanitize them by removing personal health information or I can send you a HIPAA agreement so you can send them as is.

I am losing faith that our government, the one who wants to control 20 percent of our economy with the ACA is being truthful when they state that the purpose of the face-to-face encounter is to combat fraud.  Color me cynical but I see it being bastardized as a way to deny providers payment for covered services rendered to eligible providers. 

 

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