By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On March 13, 2020, a Florida dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon agreed to pay $1.74 million to resolve allegations that he violated the False Claims Act (FCA). United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez announced that Dr. Thi Thien Nguyen Tran and Village Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery, L.L.C. agreed to settle the case involving allegedly inflated Medicare claims. The settlement concludes the qui tam (whistleblowers) civil lawsuit originally filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
Alleged Inflated Claims to Medicare.
According to the settlement agreement, from 2011 through 2016, Dr. Tran and Village Dermatology billed for 14,000 tissue transfers, which should have been billed as lower-level wound repairs. These submissions allegedly resulted in inflated claims that Medicare paid at rates higher than it should have paid. The exaggerated claims that were submitted to Medicare were for wound repairs related to Mohs surgery, a common, in-office procedure for dermatologists.
Qui Tam, Whistleblower Provisions.
The suit was originally filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act. This law, originally enacted during the Civil War, allows a private citizen to sue on behalf of the United States for false claims the government paid; if successful in recovering money, the whistleblower shares in the recovery. The Act also allows the United States to intervene and prosecute the action. According to the DOJ, the whistleblowers in this suit will receive over $305,000 of the proceeds from the settlement it made with Dr. Tran and Village Dermatology.
This case just shows that even physicians can and should bring such claims and be rewarded for their whistleblowing activities.
To read the press release issued by the DOJ, click here.
Read about a recent case involving FCA allegations by reading one of my prior blogs here.
False Claims Act Cases Can Often be Settled Early and Greater Penalties, Including Prison, Avoided.
This case shows that getting an experienced attorney involved early in the proceedings can lead to a monetary settlement on a case for a much lower price than if it were unnecessarily and aggressively defended. False Claims Act cases carry with them the threat of a possible criminal prosecution which can result in years in prison for a physician. They could also result in civil monetary penalties in the millions of dollars. This is because the government is allowed to pursue treble dames, plus $11,500 (adjusted for inflation), plus attorneys fee and costs, for each claim. Thus, if a physician has only 100 possibly false claims that Medicare paid for $100 each, this could result in over $1,150,300.00, plus attorney fees and costs for them. 1,000 false claims, over $11 million in possible penalties.
If the physician can retain the services of an experienced health lawyer who can negotiate down the amount sought by the government millions of dollars in penalties, legal fees and lost time from medical practice may be achieved. On the other hand, in the right case, if a physician is not guilty of any false billings, these cases can be identified early and a cohesive, organized defense planned early.
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Qui Tam, Whistleblower Cases, and False Claims Act Violations.
Attorneys with The Health Law Firm represent dermatologists and other physicians, nurse practitioners and other nurses, and health professionals who need to defend a False Claims Act case, or who desire to file a False Claims Act (whistleblower or qui tam) case. However, the attorneys of The Health Law Firm also defend physicians, medical groups, and health facilities who have been sued in False Claims Act (whistleblower or qui tam) cases or have had administrative or civil complaints filed against them to recover civil monetary penalties. We have developed relationships with recognized experts in health care accounting, health care financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters.
To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com
Pederson, Joe. “Villages doctor agrees to pay $1.7 million to settle False Claims Act Liability after inflating Medicare claims.” Orlando Sentinel. (March 13, 2020). Web.
“Villages doctor agrees to pay $1.7 million to settle False Claims Act after inflating Medicare claims.” MSN News. (March 16, 2020). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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