Justia Public Benefits Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice
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The Kreizenbecks sought compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Act, 42 U.S.C. 300aa-1–34, alleging that vaccinations administered to their son aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder and caused him to suffer immune system dysfunction and other medical problems. They submitted 1,500 pages of medical records, medical literature, Mrs. Kreizenbeck's affidavit, and reports from three medical experts. The government submitted reports from three experts. The Special Master determined that “a ruling on the papers was preferable to a hearing,” expressed “serious misgivings about the claims’ substantive validity,” and explained that if the parties proceeded to a hearing, he was unlikely to compensate the Kreizenbecks for costs. The Kreizenbecks chose to forgo a hearing but objected to a ruling on the record. The Master allowed the parties to submit final briefs, then determined that nothing in the record and expert reports suggested that the outcome would be different after a hearing. He found the government’s mitochondrial expert “reliable and persuasive,” the Kreizenbecks’ expert reports “conclusory or unsubstantiated” and Mrs. Kreizenbeck’s affidavit uncorroborated and inconsistent with the medical records. The Kreizenbecks did not dispute the substance of the claim denial but challenged the dismissal of their petition on the written record.The Claims Court affirmed, finding that the Master provided ample opportunity to support the claims with written material. The Federal Circuit affirmed, noting the Master’s broad discretion to rule on the record and rejecting a due process argument based on evaluating the credibility of the experts and Mrs. Kreizenbeck without live testimony or cross-examination. View "Kreizenbbeck v. Secretary of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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For four years, nurse practitioner Jordan treated Clanton’s severe hypertension. Jordan, an employee of the U.S. Public Health Service, failed to properly educate Clanton about his disease or to monitor its advancement. Clanton’s hypertension developed into Stage V kidney disease requiring dialysis and a transplant. Clanton successfully sued the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The court determined that Clanton had not contributed at all to his own injuries, noting that Clanton did not understand why it was important to take his medication and to attend appointments. The court awarded $30 million in damages. The Seventh Circuit vacated, finding that the court erred in its analysis of comparative negligence. Clanton’s subjective understanding does not end the inquiry. Illinois law requires the court to take the additional step of comparing Clanton’s understanding of his condition to that of a reasonable person in his situation. Clanton was in the position of a person whose caregiver failed to provide information about the severity of his condition but he had external clues that he was seriously unwell: two employment-related physicals showed that he had dangerously high blood pressure. The court upheld the court’s method of calculating damages and agreed that Clanton’s Medicare benefits are collateral to his damages award under Illinois law, so the government is not entitled to a partial offset. View "Clanton v. United States" on Justia Law

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Moshiri, other physicians, and hospital administrators were charged (42 U.S.C. 1320a-7b(b)) based on a kickback scheme. The former director of the podiatry residency program (Noorlag) testified that teaching contracts were a vehicle to pay physicians for referrals. Moshiri received $2,000 per month and was named as the Director of External Podiatric Office Rotations. Another doctor was named to that position at the same time. According to Noorlag, neither doctor was considered to hold that position, and neither performed the related duties. The Chair of the Counsel on Podiatric Medical Education, which oversees and certifies residency programs nationally and publishes standards, offered an expert opinion that teaching stipends are uncommon for attending physicians at residency programs and that he had never heard of such a physician being paid $2,000 per month. According to multiple witnesses, Moshiri did not conduct workshops and did not manage external rotations. Moshiri worked with residents about three times per month, while 11 other program physicians averaged 10 cases per month with residents. During the period at issue, the Hospital billed Medicare and Medicaid $482,000 for patients Moshiri treated. The Hospital’s Chief Operating Officer had recorded conversations in which Moshiri discussed his referrals. The agent who arrested Moshiri testified that Moshiri said that “the contract turned into basically paying for patients.” The Seventh Circuit upheld Moshiri’s conviction, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and to the expert testimony. View "United States v. Moshiri" on Justia Law

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Ollis, a veteran, sought disability benefits under 38 U.S.C. 1151, which provides benefits for certain injuries incurred as a result of VA medical care. Ollis suffers from atrial fibrillation and claims a disability resulting from complications of a heart procedure to treat that condition. The procedure (miniMAZE) was allegedly recommended by a VA doctor but was performed by a private doctor. The VA denied Ollis’s application for benefits. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals and the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims affirmed. The Federal Circuit vacated in part, remanding the question of whether Ollis’s VA doctors were negligent by recommending the mini-MAZE procedure to him. The Veterans Court focused on whether VA medical treatment caused Ollis to utilize Dr. Hall and Methodist Medical Center, rather than on whether VA medical treatment caused him to have the mini-MAZE procedure itself. On remand, the Veterans Court must also address the “not reasonably foreseeable” and “proximate cause of the disability” requirements. The court affirmed rejection of an argument that VA’s failure to provide him notice that a referral to a private facility for his miniMAZE procedure could extinguish his eligibility for benefits constituted a violation of his right to due process. View "Ollis v. Shulkin" on Justia Law

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Substantial evidence supported finding that hospital’s contracts with physicians violated Anti-Kickback statute.Novak and Nagelvoort participated in a scheme under which Sacred Heart Hospital paid illegal kickbacks to physicians in exchange for patient referrals. Novak was the Hospital’s owner, President, and Chief Executive Officer. Nagelvoort was an outside consultant, and, at various times. served as the Hospital’s Vice President of Administration and Chief Operating Officer. Federal agents secured the cooperation of physicians and other Hospital employees, some of whom recorded conversations. Agents executed warrants and searched the Hospital and its administrative and storage facilities. The prosecution focused on direct personal services contracts, teaching contracts, lease agreements for the use of office space, and agreements to provide physicians with the services of other medical professionals. The Seventh Circuit affirmed their convictions under 42 U.S.C. 1320a-7b(b)(2)(A) and 18 U.S.C. 371, rejecting arguments that there was insufficient evidence to prove that they acted with the requisite knowledge and willfulness under the statute; that the government failed to prove that certain agreements fell outside the statute’s safe harbor provisions; and that Nagelvoort withdrew from the conspiracy when he resigned his position, so that any subsequent coconspirator statements were not admissible against him. View "United States v. Naglevoort" on Justia Law

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A Massachusetts’ Medicaid beneficiary received services at Arbour, a mental health facility owned by Universal’s subsidiary. The teenager had an adverse reaction to a medication that a purported doctor prescribed after diagnosing her with bipolar disorder. She died of a seizure. Her parents discovered that few Arbour employees were licensed to provide mental health counseling or to prescribe medications without supervision. They filed a qui tam suit, alleging violations of the False Claims Act (FCA), which imposes penalties on anyone who “knowingly presents . . . a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval” to the federal government, 31 U.S.C. 3729(a)(1)(A). They alleged an “implied false certification theory of liability,” which treats a payment request as an implied certification of compliance with relevant statutes, regulations, or contract requirements that are material conditions of payment. They cited Universal’s failure to disclose serious violations of Massachusetts Medicaid regulations and claimed that Medicaid would have refused to pay the claims had it known of the violations. The First Circuit reversed dismissal, in part. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated. The FCA does not define a “false” or “fraudulent” claim; the claims at issue may be actionable because they do more than merely demand payment. Representations that state the truth only so far as it goes, while omitting critical qualifying information, can be actionable misrepresentations. By conveying specific information about services without disclosing violations of staff and licensing requirements, Universal’s claims constituted misrepresentations. FCA liability for failing to disclose violations of legal requirements does not depend upon whether those requirements were expressly designated as conditions of payment. While statutory, regulatory, and contractual requirements are not automatically material, even if labeled as conditions of payment, a defendant can have “actual knowledge” that a condition is material even if the government does not expressly call it a condition of payment. View "Universal Health Servs., Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Infant was born with severe brain damage. Respondent, Infant's mother, on behalf of Infant, applied for and received Medicaid benefits from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR). Respondent later filed a medical malpractice lawsuit on behalf of Infant. Subsequently, Respondent petitioned the circuit court for approval of the settlement, requesting that Medicaid not be reimbursed. DHHR intervened. The court granted the motion of Respondent for allocation of the $3,600,000 settlement, holding that, pursuant to Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services v. Ahlborn, a proportional reduction of DHHR's recovery was required based on the ratio of the settlement to the "full value" of the case among the various damages categories. Using this allocation method, the court reduced DHHR's statutory reimbursement from the requested amount of $289,075 to $79,040 and directed that the net settlement proceeds be placed in a special needs trust for the benefit of Infant. The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part, holding (1) a $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages was applicable in this case; and (2) under the formula applied in Ahlborn, the DHHR was entitled to approximately $98,080, less its pro rata share of attorney's fees and costs. Remanded.View "In re E.B." on Justia Law

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The Medicaid statute’s anti-lien provision, 42 U. S. C. 1396p(a)(1), pre-empts state efforts to take any portion of a tort judgment or settlement not “designated as payments for medical care.” A North Carolina statute requires that up to one-third of damages recovered by a beneficiary for a tortious injury be paid to the state to reimburse it for payments made for medical treatment on account of the injury. E. M. A. suffered serious birth injuries that require her to receive 12 to 18 hours of skilled nursing care per day and that will prevent her from working or living independently. North Carolina’s Medicaid program pays part of the cost of her ongoing care. E. M. A. and her parents filed a medical malpractice suit against the physician who delivered her and the hospital where she was born and settled for $2.8 million, due to insurance policy limits. The settlement did not allocate money among medical and nonmedical claims. The state court placed one-third of the recovery into escrow pending a judicial determination of the amount owed by E. M. A. to the state. While that litigation was pending, the North Carolina Supreme Court held in another case that the irrebuttable statutory one-third presumption was a reasonable method for determining the amount due the state for medical expenses. The federal district court, in E.M.A.’s case, agreed. The Fourth Circuit vacated. The Supreme Court affirmed. The federal anti-lien provision pre-empts North Carolina’s irrebuttable statutory presumption that one-third of a tort recovery is attributable to medical expenses. North Carolina’s irrebuttable, one-size-fits-all statutory presumption is incompatible with the Medicaid Act’s clear mandateView "Wos v. E. M. A." on Justia Law

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Chhibber, an internist, operated a walk‐in medical office on the south side of Chicago. For patients with insurance or Medicare coverage, Chhibber ordered an unusually high volume of diagnostic tests, including echocardiograms, electrocardiograms, pulmonary function tests, nerve conduction studies, carotid Doppler ultrasound scans and abdominal ultrasound scans. Chhibber owned the equipment and his staff performed the tests. He was charged with eight counts of making false statements relating to health care matters, 18 U.S.C. 1035, and eight counts of health care fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1347. The government presented witnesses who had worked for Chhibber, patients who saw him, and undercover agents who presented themselves to the Clinic as persons needing medical services. Chhibber’s former employees testified that he often ordered tests before he even arrived at the office, based on phone calls with staff. Employees performed the tests themselves with little training, and the results were not reviewed by specialists; normally, the tests were not reviewed at all. Chhibber was convicted of four counts of making false statements and five counts of health care fraud. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to evidentiary rulings. View "United States v. Chhibber" on Justia Law

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After researching qui tam actions and meeting with an attorney, Dr. Watson placed an ad in a Sheboygan newspaper soliciting minor Medicaid patients who had been prescribed certain psychotropic medications. The ad referred to participation in a possible Medicaid fraud suit and sharing in any recovery. Meyer responded and entered into an agreement with Watson, who never met Meyer’s child, but obtained the child’s records by using an authorization stating that Meyer was requesting the records “[f]or the purpose of providing psychological services and for no other purpose whatsoever….” Watson searched the records for “off‐label” prescriptions written for a purpose that has not been approved by the FDA. Off‐label use is common, but generally not paid for by Medicaid. In the child’s records, Watson identified 49 prescriptions that he alleged constituted false claims to the U.S. government. The district court rejected Watson’s suit under the qui tam provision of the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C.3729(a)(1)(A), reasoning that expert testimony was necessary to prove essential elements of the case and Watson had not named experts. While characterizing Watson’s tactics as “borderline fraudulent,” the Seventh Circuit reversed, citing the district court’s “overly rigid” view of the causation and knowledge elements of the claim. View "Watson v. King-Vassel" on Justia Law