The U.S. Department of Justice announced on December 11, 2018 that the United States has intervened in a complaint against Sutter Health LLC, a California-based healthcare services provider, and an affiliated entity, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, that alleges that Sutter violated the False Claims Act by submitting inaccurate information about the health status of beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Advantage Plans.
Under Medicare Advantage, also known as the Medicare Part C program, Medicare beneficiaries have the option of enrolling in managed healthcare insurance plans called Medicare Advantage Plans (MA Plans) that are owned and operated by private Medicare Advantage Organizations (MAOs). MA Plans are paid a capitated, or per-person, amount to provide Medicare-covered benefits to beneficiaries who enroll in one of their plans.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which oversees the Medicare program, adjusts the payments to MA Plans based on demographic information and the health status of each plan beneficiary. The adjustments are commonly referred to as “risk scores.” In general, a beneficiary with more severe diagnoses will have a higher risk score, and CMS will make a larger risk-adjusted payment to the MA Plan for that beneficiary.
Sutter Health, a non-profit public benefit corporation that provides healthcare services through affiliated entities, including hospitals and medical foundations, contracted with certain MAOs to provide healthcare services to California beneficiaries enrolled in the MAOs’ MA Plans. In exchange, Sutter received a share of the payments that the MAOs received from CMS for the beneficiaries under Sutter’s care.
Sutter submitted diagnoses to the MAOs for the MA Plan enrollees that they treated. The MAOs, in turn, submitted the diagnosis codes to CMS from the beneficiaries’ medical encounters, such as office visits and hospital stays, and these diagnosis codes were used by CMS to calculate a risk score for each beneficiary.
The False Claims Act lawsuit alleges that Sutter Health and Palo Alto Medical Foundation knowingly submitted unsupported diagnosis codes for certain patient encounters for beneficiaries under their care. These unsupported diagnosis scores allegedly inflated the risk scores of these beneficiaries, resulting in inflated payments to Sutter. The lawsuit further alleges that once the Sutter entities became aware of these unsupported diagnosis codes, they failed to take sufficient corrective action to identify and delete additional potentially unsupported diagnosis codes.
The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to receive a share of any recovery. The False Claims Act also permits the government to intervene in such lawsuits, as it has done in this case. The whistleblower was a former employee of Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
The case is captioned United States ex rel. Ormsby v. Sutter Health, et al., Case No. 15-CV-01062-JD (N.D. Cal.).
If you have information regarding false claims having been submitted to Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE, other federal health care programs, or to other federal agencies/programs, and the information is not publically known and no actions have been taken by the government with regard to recovering the false claims, you should promptly consult with a False Claims Act attorney (also known as qui tam attorneys) in your U.S. state who may investigate the basis of your False Claims Act allegations and who may also assist you in bringing a qui tam lawsuit on behalf of the United States, if appropriate, for which you may be entitled to receive a portion of the recovery received by the U.S. government.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone us toll-free in the United States at 800-756-2143 to to be connected with qui tam lawyers (False Claims Act lawyers) in your U.S. state who may assist you with a False Claims Act lawsuit.
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