Health Diagnostic Laboratories, along with another lab, paid nearly $50 million to the government earlier this year to settle allegations it improperly paid doctors for referrals.
But for the company’s former leader, that was just beginning.
After the settlement, the government accused former HDL CEO Latonya Mallory and others of violating the False Claims Act and anti-kickback statute.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates said companies must now disclose “all relevant facts relating to the individuals responsible for the misconduct” in order to qualify for “cooperation credit”—less severe penalties in exchange for cooperating with the Justice Department.
Yates called the new requirement “a substantial shift from our prior practice.”
Experts say the move could help the government in its perpetual fight against healthcare fraud.
“If they do follow the new guidelines, it could very well be a sea change in certainly the way healthcare companies conduct their business and how healthcare companies ramp up their internal compliance,” said Marc Raspanti, a partner at Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti who represents whistle-blowers and is a former government prosecutor. He noted, however, that this isn’t the first time the government has said it would go after individuals.
Raspanti said Congress has chided the Justice Department for years, saying the billions of dollars in settlements investigators have acquired hasn’t deterred healthcare fraud.
Individual liability, he said, has been the missing piece.
“Now, if … there’s a chance you may be on the hook personally for liability, whether it be civil or criminal or both … if I were an executive in a company, I’d be more conscientious,” Raspanti said.
Several obstacles previously have blocked the government from pursuing more individuals in healthcare fraud cases, said Patrick Burns, co-director of the Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund, a not-for-profit partly funded by whistle-blowers and the law firms representing them.
For one, to prove a civil case, the government must show a preponderance of the evidence points toward guilt. In a criminal case, it must prove its allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, Burns said.
He added that there’s also a cultural bias in the justice system against sending wealthy, highly educated individuals, such as those running healthcare companies, to prison.
“Well-to-do folks who went to great schools, those people don’t go to jail,” Burns said. “They go to country clubs. People who listen to country music, people who work for hourly wages, we send those people to jail.”
Only a handful of corporate heads have faced punishment over healthcare fraud, Burns said, despite thousands of such cases.
In 2012, a federal appeals court revealed that three executives at Purdue Pharma, formerly known as Purdue Frederick, could be excluded from doing federal business after they pleaded guilty to failing to prevent the company’s fraudulent marketing of pain medication OxyContin.
But Roy Snell, CEO of the Health Care Compliance Association, says the healthcare industry has already been working at compliance.
He said healthcare companies have employed compliance officers and directors for years to focus on topics such as education, auditing and investigations. The Health Care Compliance Association has about 10,000 members while its sister organization, the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics, which serves other industries, has about 5,000 members, Snell said.
“When the enforcement community comes into healthcare, they’re going to see a more robust effort,” Snell said.
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