The United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced yesterday that a Detroit-area resident, Louisa Thompson, plead guilty on June 20, 2012, to one count of criminal conspiracy to commit health care fraud in the Eastern District of Michigan federal court.
The Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) task force, a DOJ and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) multi-agency joint venture, headed the investigation of Ms. Thompson. The HEAT task force, which is an initiative of the federal Medicare Fraud Strike Force, uses data analysis and community policing to detect health care fraud perpetrators who steal billions of dollars from the federal government.
The task force discovered that since 2006, Ms. Thompson had billed Medicare for psychotherapy services through two companies, TGW Medical Inc. and Caldwell Thompson Manor Inc., despite these services having never been performed, or performed by unlicensed staff. Ms. Thompson has yet to be sentenced in the case, and faces up to 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
Based on recent Medicare Fraud Task Force activity, it appears the HEAT task force is targeting psychological and psychotherapy service providers aggressively, both for criminal prosecution as well as for civil actions to recover money that Medicare and Medicaid has paid. The government’s most-used tool in civil health care cases is the False Claims Act.
The False Claims Act (FCA) was drafted in1893 and was originally intended to prohibit and prevent fraudulent claims against the government during the Civil War. Its purpose was to force government contractors to deliver promised materials, hold them accountable if they did not, and deter fraudulent activity. Under the FCA a qui tam relator (whistleblower) could bring suit on behalf of the United States, and be rewarded with a percentage of the government’s recovery.
In the late-1980s the federal government began using the FCA to pursue fraud in the federal health care programs. In recent years the government has relied on the FCA to combat fraud and abuse in the healthcare arena for conduct that did not reach the standards for criminal prosecution. The penalties for violation of the FCA can be up to $11,000 per false claim as well as three times the damage to the government.