By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On December 20, 2016, a pharmacist and whistle blower told an Illinois federal court that Wisconsin and Chicago-area chain of grocery stores, Roundy’s Supermarket, Inc. (Roundy’s), knew gift cards it was providing Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries were actually illegal kickbacks. In defense of his False Claims Act (FCA) Suit, the whistle blower claims the chain proceeded to hand them out anyway despite knowing they were illegal.
The Whistle Blower and the Alleged Scheme.
The whistle blower in the suit, pharmacist Jefferey Kotwica, alleged the company was involved in illegal kickbacks, thus allegedly defrauding government health care programs, by offering gift cards to pharmacy customers that exceeded legal limits. Roundy’s enacted a Script Saver Program that gave all customers “pharmacy club coupons” for pharmacy purchases. When they reached five of those coupons, they could be redeemed for a $10 gift card, the complaint states. At some stores, the number of coupons necessary for a gift card was lowered to three, Kotwica said.
Roundy’s has mounted a defense to these allegations. Despite that defense, the whistle blower maintains the gift cards were more than the legal nominal value allowed. The whistle blower claimed additionally that the “retailer reward exception” failed because the gift cards were tied to the services the government health care programs reimbursed and were meant to induce customers to transfer prescriptions to the store.
The pharmacist and whistle blower in the case, claimed that he heard corporate executives discussing having Medicare and Medicaid recipients excluded from the program because they were concerned their inclusion was illegal, but never acted on that concern. Therefore, Kotwica said that this shows that Roundy’s had the intent to violate the FCA. The whistle blower also claimed that the company retaliated against him for speaking out to the point where he resigned his position as a pharmacist with it.
The case was originally filed in June 2015. Like all federal False Claims Act (FCA) cases, it remained sealed until ordered unsealed by the court. It was unsealed in July 2016 after the U.S., and the states of Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin declined to intervene in the case. Click here to read the response in this case.
Fighting Government Fraud and Abuse.
This case was brought under the federal False Claims Act (FCA) or federal “whistle blower law.” This law contains standards for both civil and criminal penalties against those filing false claims for services paid for by the government. False Claims Act cases, such as this recent one, are typically filed in a qui tam (or whistle blower) proceeding. This type of action involves a private party filing a lawsuit on behalf of the government against a defendant who allegedly defrauded the government. The “whistle blower” receives a percentage of the money recovered by the government (if any), through any judgment or settlement of the case. Often the amounts awarded to the whistle blower are in the millions of dollars. Whistle blowers are often protected from receiving any potential civil liability or prosecution for their involvement in the matter.
Our firm has been on both sides of both federal and state whistle blower or qui tam cases. We have represented nurses, physicians, pharmacists and other health professionals in bringing such cases. We have also defended physicians, health care providers, medical groups and health facilities in such cases.
We have also represented relators or plaintiffs bringing such actions to recover money on behalf of the government. A qui tam relator can receive up to 30% of the amount recovered on behalf of the government. This means, for example, that of a defendant settles with the government paying back $5 million, the relator or whistle blower can receive up to $1.5 million, plus his attorney’s fees and costs. Usually, the biggest obstacle to bringing any such case is being able to show an actual false claim that was filed.
If you have information concerning health care fraud by overbilling federal health care programs such as Medicare or Medicaid, do not hesitate to take action. The government urges health care providers to step forward and report illegal and fraudulent activities as soon as they are uncovered. The False Claims Act provides a system of rewards that encourages whistle blowers to bring these issues to the government’s attention.
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Health Care Fraud and Qui Tam or Whistleblower Cases.
The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent physicians, nurses, dentists, orthodontists, medical groups, clinics, pharmacies, assisted living facilities (AFLs), home health care agencies, nursing homes, group homes and other healthcare providers in bringing or defending against False Claims Act, whistle blower or qui tam cases. We also defend health care providers in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits and recovery actions. We represent plaintiffs and defendants in complex health care litigation in state or federal courts.
Attorneys with The Health Law Firm also represent health care professionals and others who may desire to file a qui tam, False Claims Act or whistle blower suit. We work with physicians, nurses and other professionals to investigate, document and file such cases. 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. We have represented number of doctors and other licensed health professionals as relators in bringing qui tam or whistle blower cases. Our attorneys are also available to defend physicians, medical groups and health care providers in qui tam or whistle blower cases.
To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.
Kass, Dani. “Wis. Supermarket Should Face FCA Suit, Pharmacist Says.” Law360. (December 20, 2016). Web.
“Wis. Supermarket Should Face FCA Suit, Pharmacist Says.” Make Me Feed. (December 21, 2016). 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., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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