For months now, 15 New Mexico behavioral health agencies have been the subject of a Medicaid fraud investigation. The state’s largest mental health providers had their Medicaid funding frozen by the New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD) due to credible allegations of fraud, according to KUNM News. The behavioral health agencies are accused of collectively defrauding Medicaid of $36 million over three years. The findings in an audit conducted in 2012, by OptumHealth, the contractor that handles Medicaid payments for New Mexico’s behavioral health system, alarmed state officials to the point that they hired Public Consulting Group (PCG), a firm that specializes in Medicaid fraud, to conduct another audit in June 2013.
These behavioral health agencies provided services to approximately 30,000 patients. According to KUNM News, Arizona companies have been hired to step in to help patients needing treatment.
Audits and Whistleblower Claims Uncover Serious Accusations.
The reason for the Medicaid funding freeze, according to the HSD, was the initial audit conducted by OptumHealth, the company that manages Medicaid dollars for New Mexico’s behavioral health agencies. OptumHealth allegedly found problems with billing by the agencies in question. Then a second audit by PCG allegedly uncovered widespread overpayments for services that had never been provided. According to the New York Times, a quarter of patients’ claims were processed with mistakes.
During the PCG audit, whistleblowers also came forward with their own accusations, according to the New York Times. In one case, an employee was allegedly ordered not to inform the state that a patient had died. In another, an ex-employee at an agency reported being fired after refusing to overbill for services.
Mental Health Providers Fight for Funding.
New Mexico officials state that they were obligated under federal law. Under the Affordable Care Act, states have more power to suspend payments when there is credible evidence that Medicaid dollars are being misused. All 15 mental health providers sought exceptions from the state so their Medicaid funding could be restored while the investigation continues. Only three exceptions were granted, according to the New York Times.
Mounting Pressure to Root Out Medicare and Medicaid Fraud.
Just this year, we’ve noticed the government become more aggressive in its anti-fraud and recovery efforts. The Affordable Care Act also gives investigators and prosecutors new tools to crack down on abuse. Now that the government is collecting more money, you can expect their efforts to get worse.
Since whistleblowers stand to receive up to thirty-five percent (35%) of a recovery made by the government, plus attorney’s fees and costs, you can expect more whistleblower lawsuits to be filed. Therefore, it is now more important than ever to verify accurate billing and coding.
Most Qui Tams Filed by Doctors, Nurses and Employees.
From our review of qui tam cases that have been unsealed by the government, it appears most of these are filed by physicians, nurses or hospital staff employees who have some knowledge of false billing or inappropriate coding taking place. Normally the government will want to see some actual documentation of the claims submitted by the hospital or other institution. Usually physicians, nurses or staff employees have access to such documentation. Whistleblowers are urged to come forward as soon as possible. In many circumstances, documentation that shows the fraud “disappears” or cannot be located once it is known that a company is under investigation.
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Qui Tam or Whistleblower Cases.
Attorneys with The Health Law Firm also represent health care professionals and health facilities in qui tam or whistleblower cases both in defending such claims and in bringing such claims. 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 doctors, nurses and others as relators in bringing qui tam or whistleblower cases, as well.
To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.
Individuals working in the health care industry often become aware of questionable activities. Often they are even asked to participate in it. In many cases the activity may amount to fraud on the government. Has this ever happened to you? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.
Frosch, Dan. “Fraud Investigation Unsettles Mental Health Care in New Mexico.” New York Times. (September 16, 2013). From: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/14/us/fraud-investigation-unsettles-mental-health-care-in-new-mexico.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Ahtone, Tristan. “A Timeline of NM’s Shakeup of Behavioral Health Providers.” New Mexico In Depth. (September 13, 2013). From: http://www.nmindepth.com/2013/09/13/a-timeline-of-nms-shakeup-of-behavioral-health-providers/#
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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