Continued Focus on Telemedicine
During the second quarter of 2019, DOJ continued its focus on enforcement activity in telemedicine. As reported in prior editions of the Quarterly Roundup, telemedicine is an expanding field, causing DOJ to pay particular attention to the industry.
In April 2019, DOJ indicted the owner and operator of 1stCare MD and ProfitsCentric with one count of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks. The defendant’s arrest and federal indictment is part of a nationwide law enforcement action, as reported in the Q1 2019 Quarterly Roundup, that targeted 24 defendants involved in alleged extensive healthcare fraud schemes focused on telemedicine and durable medical equipment (DME) marketing. These schemes allegedly resulted in losses amounting to more than $1.2 billion. The indictment alleges that from 2016 to 2019 the defendant defrauded HHS in its administration and oversight of Medicare by conspiring with others by paying and receiving kickbacks and bribes in exchange for doctors’ orders for DME for Medicare beneficiaries. Prosecutors also alleged that the defendants, 1stCare MD and ProfitsCentric, through their network of doctors, generated thousands of doctors’ orders for DME absent a pre-existing doctor-patient relationship and a physical examination, and that the orders were based solely on a short telephone conversation. The indictment alleges that these activities resulted in the submission of approximately $40 million in fraudulent Medicare claims for DME.
Further, in July 2019, DOJ indicted a New York-based anesthesiologist for her alleged role in a $7 million telemedicine conspiracy to fraudulently bill Medicare, Medicare Part D plans and private insurance plans, resulting in more than $3 million in payments on those claims. According to DOJ, the indictment resulted from investigative work by the Criminal Division’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force, a joint initiative of DOJ and HHS. Eastern District of New York prosecutors charged the anesthesiologist with one count of conspiring to commit healthcare fraud by misusing telemedicine channels under agreements with unidentified companies to prescribe DME and drugs to more than 3,000 Medicare beneficiaries. The indictment alleges that, from January 2015 to May 2018, the anesthesiologist and other providers allegedly received kickback payments from unidentified companies for improper telemedicine encounters. The indictment alleges that the anesthesiologist “prescribed and ordered DME and prescription drugs for beneficiaries who were not examined or evaluated by a licensed physician.” The prosecutors alleged that the prescriptions flowing from the alleged telemedicine encounters were for DME and drugs that were neither medically necessary nor the result of genuine physician-patient relationships.
PRACTICE NOTE: Given DOJ’s recent criminal enforcement related to telemedicine, telemedicine companies should closely review their compliance with the federal and state laws that may be implicated through a telemedicine practice. Further, DOJ’s focus on individual accountability is particularly important with respect to telemedicine, given its interest in pursuing criminal actions against physicians.
 See Press Release, US Dep’t of Justice, Owner of Guadalupe County Telemedicine Companies Arrested in National Health Care Fraud Takedown (July, 9 2019), https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdtx/pr/owner-guadalupe-county-telemedicine-companies-arrested-national-health-care-fraud.
 See Press Release, US Dep’t of Justice, New York Anesthesiologist Indicted for Alleged Role in Telemedicine Health Care Fraud Conspiracy (July, 9 2019), https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/new-york-anesthesiologist-indicted-alleged-role-telemedicine-health-care-fraud-conspiracy.