Health Care Providers Should Consider the Ramifications of “Taking a Plea” in a Criminal Case or Agreeing to a Licensure Action. It May Trigger a Mandatory or Permissive OIG Exclusion Action.

(July 16, 2018):  Perhaps the most severe administrative sanction available under the Social Security Act stems from the authority of the Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to exclude individuals and entities from participating in Federal and State health benefits programs.[1]  The Secretary has delegated[2] this authority to the HHS, Office of Inspector General (OIG)[3]. As a recent comprehensive, first-of-its-kind study by ExclusionScreening.com found that during the period 2013 to 2017, approximately 90% of the permissive OIG exclusion actions taken were based on an adverse administrative action taken against a healthcare provider’s license.  This article examines a decision issued earlier this year by the HHS Departmental Appeals Board (DAB or Board) where the Board examined a licensure-related exclusion action in considerable detail.  

 I.  Brief Overview of OIG Licensure-Related Exclusion Actions: 

With the passage of the Medicare-Medicaid Anti-Fraud and Abuse Amendments[4] in 1977, mandatory OIG exclusion became mandated in cases where a physician and other practitioner has been convicted of program-related crimes. (now codified at section 1128 of the Social Security Act).  Since that time, various additional bases for both mandatory[5] and permissive[6] exclusion have been enacted. Collectively assessed, the most frequent statutory basis relied on by the OIG when seeking to exclude an individual from participation in Federal and State health care programs is “42 USC §1320a-7(b)(4) License Revocation or Suspension.[7]”  As this provision set out:

“Any individual or entity—
(A) whose license to provide health care has been revoked or suspended by any State licensing authority, or who otherwise lost such a license or the right to apply for or renew such a license, for reasons bearing on the individual’s or entity’s professional competence, professional performance, or financial integrity, or
 
(B) who surrendered such a license while a formal disciplinary proceeding was pending before such an authority and the proceeding concerned the individual’s or entity’s professional competence, professional performance, or financial integrity.”

   OIG Exclusion Check

 II.  Case Study: DAB ALJ Decision No. CR4985
[8]; DAB Appellate Div. Decision #2848.[9] 

In this case, a Virginia-licensed Chiropractor pled guilty in 2016 to one count of manufacturing marijuana, a felony. He was sentenced by the Court to 5 years of incarceration (4 years and 11 months suspended) and ordered him to pay a $2,500.  Based on this felony conviction, the Virginia Board of Medicine suspended the individual’s license to practice chiropractic indefinitely.[10]
  • The OIG excluded the individual under 42 USC §1320a-7(b)(4).
The OIG based its exclusion on the indefinite suspension, which links reinstatement to the term of the licensure suspension. The OIG cited 42 USC §1320a-7(b)(4) as its basis for exclusion. 
  • ALJ review of the OIG’s exclusion action.
The Chiropractor (Petitioner) subsequently filed a timely request for review by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  Both the OIG and the Petitioner subsequently filed arguments and related documentation in support of their position.  Notably, the Petitioner’s submissions included (but were not limited to) a copy of his North Carolina chiropractic license and certificates showing his successful completion of chiropractic training courses.  As the ALJ’s decision reflects, after the record had closed, the Petitioner submitted additional documentation, including a letter attesting to his competence and a copy of his active North Carolina chiropractic license.  The ALJ refused to admit the additional materials into record based on the fact that were not submitted in a timely fashion and were irrelevant.  
Further complicating the case was the fact while the matter was pending before the ALJ, the OIG issued a second exclusion notice, advising the Petitioner that pursuant to section 1128(a)(4) of the Social Security Act (as codified at 42 USC §1320a-7(a)(4)), he was being mandatorily excluded from program participation for five years. As set out under 42 USC §1320a-7(a) Mandatory exclusion

 
“The Secretary shall exclude the following individuals and entities from participation in any Federal health care program (as defined in section 1320a-7b(f) of this title). . . ”
Since this mandatory exclusion action was based on the Petitioner’s felony conviction of a criminal offense related to the manufacture, distribution, prescription, or dispensing of a controlled substance, it fell under the following exclusion provision:
 
“(4) Felony conviction relating to controlled substances:
 
Any individual or entity that has been convicted for an offense which occurred after August 21, 1996, under Federal or State law, of a criminal offense consisting of a felony relating to the unlawful manufacture, distribution, prescription, or dispensing of a controlled substance.”

Notably the Petitioner does not appear to have appealed the five-year exclusion action. 
Upon consideration of the facts and the evidence, the ALJ sustained the OIG’s decision to exclude the Petitioner from participating in Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal health care programs.
  • Appellate review of the ALJ’s decision.
The Petitioner appealed the ALJ’s decision sustaining the OIG’s decision to exclude him from participation in Medicare, Medicaid and all Federal health care programs. As the ALJ’s ruling reflects, the Petitioner was to be excluded as least until he regained his Virginia chiropractic license. On appeal, the Petitioner raised several issues that were addressed by the Appellate Board:

Petitioner Issue #1:  First, the Petitioner argued that the time frame for exclusion was not adequately addressed by the judge.  The Petitioner further stated that he “did not agree with the length of exclusion because it was excessive and unjust.”

Board Response to #1: As the Board noted in its appellate ruling, in situations where the OIG has excluded an individual’s health care license is revoked or suspended for reasons bearing on the individual’s professional competence, professional performance or financial integrity, the Social Security Act does not delegate an ALJ the discretion to set the length of the exclusion for less than the period during which the individual’s license is suspended. (See, Social Security Act Act § 1128(c)(3)(E); 42 C.F.R. § 1001.501(b)). 

Petitioner Issue #2:  Petitioner argued that the ALJ failed to consider letters from patients and colleagues attesting to the Petitioner’s professional competence and good character in support of a reduction in the length of Petitioner’s exclusion.
 
Board Response to #2: As the Board noted in its decision, neither it nor the ALJ has the authority to consider the letters from the Petitioner’s patients and colleagues attesting to his professional competence and good character for the purpose of reducing the length of Petitioner’s exclusion.  Simply put, equitable arguments and evidence submitted in an effort to obtain a reduction in the length of exclusion cannot be considered.

Petitioner Issue #3:  The Petitioner’s appeal also raised the imposition of a second and separate OIG five-year exclusion action (based on 1128(a)(4) of the Social Security Act; 42 USC §1320a-7(a)) that was imposed while the Petitioner’s appeal was pending before the ALJ.  In the Board proceeding, the Petitioner argued that he was “appealing the five-year exclusion because it is excessive and unreasonable in [his] case.”  He further stated that he was “requesting that [his] exclusion remain as originally reported: three years or until I regain my Virginia license because that would support my position for Inclusion.”

Board Response to #3:  As the Board noted in its decision, the Petitioner only appealed the initial permissive exclusion action under 1128(b)(4), 42 USC §1320a-7(b)(4).  There was no evidence that the Petitioner had requested an ALJ hearing to contest the OIG’s second exclusion action brought under 1128(a)(4) of the Social Security Act; 42 USC §1320a-7(a).  As a result, the Board could not consider the second exclusion action.
  • Lessons to be learned from this case.
Both the ALJ and Board decisions in this case really highlight the lack of discretion that these adjudicators have when it comes to “adjusting” or “reducing” a health care provider’s length of exclusion for less than the period during which the individual’s license is suspended.  As the case noted, the Petitioner was also licensed in North Carolina, and presumably there were no restrictions on his North Carolina.[11]  Unfortunately, the fact that the Petitioner was fully licensed in North Carolina was irrelevant to the decisions of both the ALJ and the Board.  As 42 C.F.R. § 1001.501(b) expressly provides: 

“(b)Length of exclusion.
(1) Except as provided in paragraph (b)(2) of this section, an exclusion imposed in accordance with this section will not be for a period of time less than the period during which an individual’s or entity’s license is revoked, suspended, or otherwise not in effect as a result of, or in connection with, a State licensing agency action.  (Emphasis Added).

So, what should a health care provider do if he or she receives notice that the OIG is seeking to exclude him or her based on a licensure suspension action?  It is important to keep in mind that a licensure-based exclusion action is a permissive action that may or may not be pursued by the OIG.  To the extent that there is any chance to convince the OIG that the agency should decline to exercise it permissive exclusion authority, now is the time for your legal counsel to make its pitch.

Once the OIG has formally exercised its permissive exclusion authority, the restrictions set forth under 42 C.F.R. § 1001.501(b) must be applied.  Neither an ALJ nor the Board has the discretion to deviate from the time period requirements imposed by statute.  Although the OIG rarely waives its discretion to pursue a permissive licensure-based exclusion action, providers should.

This case also serves as a stark reminder that neither an ALJ nor the Board is in a position to “weigh” the equities in a licensure-based exclusion case when assessing the length of time imposed for the exclusion.  Adjudicators are required by statute to determine whether an exclusion determination made by the OIG was consistent with the law.  Equitable arguments and evidence such as those submitted by the Petitioner in this case cannot be considered in a licensure-based exclusion case.  An individual cannot have an exclusion lifted until his or her license is reinstated.  Period. 

In recent years, the number of exclusion actions imposed by the OIG has continued to grow. While there is little or no flexibility with respect to some of the bases for exclusion, every case is based on a unique set of facts, some of which may present opportunities to negotiate a more favorable period of exclusion with OIG, or even avoid exclusion all together. 

We strongly recommend that you contact experienced health law counsel at the first sign that you may be excluded from participation in Federal and State health care programs.  In terms of strategy, a health care provider’s best course of action is to engage experienced health law counsel at the earliest opportunity, preferably before an adverse action has been taken against your professional license.  A comprehensive response strategy is essential so that you possible minimize the adverse collateral effects of an adverse licensure action.  The attorneys at Liles Parker have extensive experience representing health care providers in exclusion-related proceedings. 


OIG ExclusionRobert W. Liles serves as Managing Partner at the health law firm, Liles Parker, Attorneys and Counselors at Law.  Liles Parker attorneys represent health care providers and suppliers around the country in connection with UPIC audits, OIG exclusion actions and state licensure board disciplinary proceedings.  Has an exclusion action been proposed against your license?  We can help.  For a free initial consultation regarding your situation, call Robert at:  1 (800) 475-1906.

[1] The term “Federal health care programs” is defined under Section 1128B(f) of the Social Security Act as:
(1) any plan or program that provides health benefits, whether directly, through insurance, or otherwise, which is funded directly, in whole or in part, by the United States Government (other than the health insurance program under chapter 89 of title 5, United States Code); or
(2) any State health care program, as defined in section 1128(h).
42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b(f) (2012).
[2]See Updated: Special Advisory Bulletin on the Effect of Exclusion from Participation in Federal Health Care Programs, U.S. Dep’t of Health & Human Servs.: Office of Inspector Gen., at 2-3 (May 8, 2013) (stating that . . . the Secretary has delegated authority to OIG to exclude from participation in Medicare, Medicaid, and other Federal health care programs persons that have engaged in fraud or abuse and to impose civil money penalties (CMPs) for certain misconduct related to Federal health care programs”).
[3] The OIG maintains a website containing up-to-date information on federal health care program exclusion rules, which can be found at http://oig.hhs.gov/fraud/exclusions.asp.
[4] While Public Law 95-142’s “exclusion” provisions are important, the legislation is best known for its impact on the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute.  More specifically, the legislation made violations of the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute a felony. It also made those who offered remuneration for referrals and those who received them, subject to various penalties.
[5] Under the government’s mandatory exclusion authority (as set out under Section 1128(a) of the Social Security Act), any individual or entity convicted of certain offenses must be excluded from participation in federal health care programs.  The length of a mandatory exclusion action taken can last a minimum of five years.
[6] Depending on the circumstances, OIG may also exercise “permissive” or discretionary authority to exclude an entity or an individual from participation in federal health care programs.
[7] Under 42 USC §1320a-7(b)(4), any individual or entity whose professional license to provide health care has been revoked or suspended, or has lost the right to apply for a license, CAN be excluded from participation, at OIG’s options.
[8] DAB ALJ Decision No. CR4985, dated December 13, 2017.
[9] DAB Appellate Div. Decision No. 2848, dated February 6, 2018.
[10] Under the Virginia Code, the Board of Medicine may suspend a license indefinitely for “acts of unprofessional conduct,” which include “knowingly and willfully” committing a felony; violating any statute or regulation relating to the manufacture, distribution, dispensing, or administration of drugs; and conviction of a felony.  See Virginia Code §§ 54.1-2915(A)(10), (17), and (20).
[11] This is an interesting point raised by the Petitioner. In some states, the revocation of a professional license is permanent and can only be reinstated upon the submission of a new application.  Even then the state board has the discretion of whether or not to consider the new application.  Theoretically, a health care provider could be licensed in 49 states and still be excluded due to a suspension action in the 50th state.
As an aside, the public record does not address whether North Carolina, like many states, normally imposes reciprocal disciplinary actions based on those taken in other jurisdictions.

OIG Trumpets Exclusions, New Actions and Recoveries in its Semi-Annual Report to Congress

OIG report
I.  OIG Report

In the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) semiannual report to Congress, it claimed credit for excluding 2,297 individuals and entities from Medicare, Medicaid, and other Federal health care programs. The OIG also claimed credit for initiating 506 criminal and 267 civil actions. According to the OIG report, most of the exclusions resulted from convictions for crimes relating to Medicare or Medicaid, patient abuse or neglect, or license revocations. The civil and criminal actions were primarily initiated against “individuals or entities engaged in health-care related offenses.” In addition, the OIG told Congress that it was responsible for generating $1.26 billion in investigative receivables due to the Department of Health and Human Services.[1]

II.  Failure to Screen

The OIG also identified some of the cases that were felt to be important. Two of these cases involved exclusion related issues. In one case, the OIG imposed $15,000 in penalties against a company under a corporate integrity agreement for failing to timely screen employees and other “covered persons.” This is of particular interest to us because the penalty was not imposed for having an excluded employee. Instead, the penalty was imposed for failing to screen! This, again, demonstrates the interest and concerns of the OIG in exclusion issues.

III.  Mandatory Exclusion 

In the other case, a physician who had been excluded due to a conviction for a health care related offense, arranged an elaborate scheme to hide his involvement in a dermatology practice so that it could bill Medicare and Medicaid for services despite his excluded status. His scheme was eventually discovered, and he was tried by a jury. He was then convicted of health care fraud, bankruptcy fraud, identity theft, and the filing of false tax returns. Ultimately, he was sentenced to 8 years and 3 months of incarceration, ordered to pay $265,330 in restitution, and fined $2.6 million. 

IV.  Permissive Exclusion

Finally, the OIG report also states that the OIG continues to enforce the HEAL (Health Education Assistance Loan) Program. It further states that 20 individuals entered into settlement agreements, and $1.5 million was collected during the reporting period. We bring this up as a reminder that vigilance in this area is a necessity! There are any number of different ways for individuals and entities to be excluded from Medicare and Medicaid. Let the experts at Exclusion ScreeningSM help ensure your organization does not employ an excluded individual or entity. Contact us for a free consultation at 1-800-294-0952 or fill out our online service form.

OIG Exclusion

Paul Weidenfeld, Co-Founder and CEO of Exclusion Screening, LLC, is the author of this article.


[1] U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General Semiannual Report to Congress, at 26.

The Administrative Process of Imposing an OIG Exclusion

Imposing OIG Exclusions

I.  Mandatory OIG Exclusions

When the Office of Inspector General (OIG) considers imposing a mandatory exclusion, it sends the individual or entity a Notice of Intent to Exclude.[1] The Notice includes the reason for the proposed exclusion and the possible effect of an exclusion. It also gives the individual or entity 30 days to respond in writing with information and evidence that he or she wants the OIG to consider in making its final decision.

The OIG will almost always decide to impose a mandatory exclusion. The individual or entity is then sent a Notice of Exclusion that includes his or her appeal rights. The exclusion goes into effect 20 days after the Notice of Exclusion is mailed and notice to the public is provided on the OIG website.   

The OIG’s decision to exclude can be appealed to an U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Adverse decisions by an ALJ can then be appealed to the HHS Departmental Appeals Board (DAB). Individuals may also seek judicial review of any final decision by the DAB.

II.  Imposing an OIG Exclusion

There are actually four different administrative processes for permissive exclusions and all of them differ from the process detailed above. As described below, the process utilized for permissive exclusions is dependent on the reason for the exclusion.

OIG may consider imposing a permissive exclusion for submitting claims for excessive charges, unnecessary services, services which fail to meet professionally recognized standards of health care, or the failure of an HMO to furnish medically necessary services.[2] The person or entity to be excluded has a right to request an opportunity to present oral argument to an OIG official before a decision may be reached. The request must be made after the individual or entity receives the Notice of Intent to Exclude, and as an addition to the right to submit evidence in writing.

OIG is not required to send the individual or entity a Notice of Intent to Exclude if it considers imposing a permissive exclusion for the failure to grant immediate access,[3] or for the failure to take corrective action.[4] Instead, OIG will send a Notice of Exclusion that includes information about the right to appeal. The exclusion becomes effective 20 days after the Notice of Exclusion is mailed and notice is provided to the public on OIG’s website. Importantly, the same appeals process that applies to mandatory OIG exclusions also applies to permissive exclusions. 

III. Conclusion

Finally, if OIG is considering excluding a person or entity for fraud, kickbacks or other prohibited activity,[5] OIG will again initiate the process by sending a Notice of Proposal to Exclude. This notice will include information about the basis for the proposed exclusion, the length of the exclusion period, the factors OIG considered when setting the exclusion period, the effect of the exclusion, appeal rights, and reinstatement information. In this situation, the exclusion goes into effect 60 days after the individual or entity receives the Notice of Proposal to Exclude, unless the individual or entity enters a timely request for a hearing. If there is a request for a hearing, the exclusion will not be effective until an ALJ upholds OIG’s decision to exclude. Adverse decisions by an ALJ may be appealed to the DAB and judicial review is available after the DAB enters a final decision.

Click to read more on OIG Exclusion

Imposing OIG Exclusions 

Ashley Hudson, Associate Attorney at Liles Parker, LLP and former Chief Operating Officer for Exclusion Screening, LLC, is the author of this article. Feel free to contact us at 1-800-294-0952 or online for a free consultation.


[1] Dep’t of Health and Human Servs. Office of the Inspector Gen., Exclusions FAQ, https://oig.hhs.gov/faqs/exclusions-faq.asp (last accessed November 26, 2014).
[2] Section 1128(b)(6) of the Social Security Act.
[3] § 1128(b)(12).
[4] § 1128(b)(13).
[5] § 1128(b)(7).

What is an OIG Exclusion?

an OIG Exclusion

By Paul Weidenfeld

I.  What is an OIG Exclusion?

An OIG Exclusion is a final administrative action by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG)  that  prohibits participation in any Federal Health Care Program.  Exclusions are imposed because the individual or entity is found to pose unacceptable risks to patient safety and/or program fraud.  As a result, Federal health care programs such as  MedicareMedicaid and TRICARE will not pay for any service provided — either directly or indirectly — by an excluded person or entity. 

II.  Who Has the Authority to Impose an OIG Exclusion?

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has the overall responsibility of administering the Medicare and Medicaid Programs. HHS decides who may receive benefits under these programs and who will be allowed to provide them.  

The authority to exclude individuals and entities from federal health care programs is delegated to OIG.[1] OIG enforces the exclusion penalty through its authority to impose civil money penalties (CMPs) where claims are submitted for services performed or furnished by an excluded person or entity and the person making the claim “knew or should have known” of the exclusion. 

III. OIG Exclusion Types

There are two types of OIG exclusions, mandatory and permissive, and both have the effect of barring an individual or entity from participating in all Federal health care programs from the time they are excluded until such time, if ever, that their privilege is reinstated.[2]  Mandatory exclusions last a minimum of 5 years and must be imposed if a person or entity is convicted of certain criminal offenses.  These include:

  • Conviction for Medicare or Medicaid fraud, or any other offense related to the fraudulent delivery of items or services to Federal or State health care programs;
  • Patient abuse or neglect;
  • Felony convictions for other health care related fraud, theft, or other financial misconduct; and
  • Felony convictions relating to unlawful manufacture, distribution, prescription, or dispensing of controlled substances.

The discretionary authority to exclude individuals and entities implicates a much wider range of conduct. We discuss this topic in a later article, but examples for which permissive exclusions may be imposed include:

  • Misdemeanor convictions related to defrauding a heath care fraud program,
  • Misdemeanor convictions relating to the unlawful manufacture, distribution, prescription, or dispensing of controlled substances,
  • Suspension, revocation, or surrender of a license to provide health care for reasons bearing on professional competence, performance, or financial integrity,
  • Provision of unnecessary or substandard services;
  • Submission of false or fraudulent claims to a Federal health care program,
  • Engaging in unlawful kickback arrangements,
  • Defaulting on health education loan or scholarship obligation, and
  • Controlling a sanctioned entity as an owner, officer, or managing employee.

IV.  Consequences of OIG Exclusion

Federal health care programs, principally Medicare and Medicaid, will not pay for any item or service that is furnished or performed by, or on the prescription or direction of, an excluded individual.[3] Since federal health programs subsidize virtually all hospitals and account for 60-65% of all health care dollars spent, exclusion is a severe restriction and is often a death knell to providers.

Providers of the federal health care programs must ensure that their employees, contractors, and vendors are not excluded and the failure to do so can result in significant penalties.  The OIG has the authority to impose penalties of up to$21,562.80 for each item or service furnished by the excluded person or entity, as well as assessments of up to three times the amount claimed.[4]  In addition, providers may be liable for overpayments.  

Even when a provider is unaware that a person was excluded at the time the claim was made, OIG has issued guidance advising that such inadvertent violations must be reported and repaid.[5] In light of this guidance, any claim that might involve an excluded person or entity could potentially have False Claims Act implications under the Affordable Care Act if it is not dealt with in a timely and proper manner.

v. Conclusion

This article is just intended to be an introductory outline of the basics to answer the question, What is an OIG Exclusion? Our other posts have additional information, but if you have any questions about exclusions and your screening obligations, feel free to contact any of us at Exclusion Screening, LLCSM

Read more on OIG Exclusion

an OIG ExclusionPaul Weidenfeld, Co-Founder and CEO of Exclusion Screening, LLC, is the author of this article. He is a longtime health care lawyer whose practice has focused on False Claims Act cases and health care fraud matters generally. Contact Paul should you have any questions at: pweidenfeld@exclusionscreening.com or 1-800-294-0952.




[1]
Sections 1128 and 1156 of the Social Security Act.

[2] Mandatory exclusions are found at 42 USC § 1320a-7; permissive exclusions are principally found at 42 USC § 1320a-7(b).

[3] Section 1862(e)(1) of the Social Security Act and 42 CFR § 1001.1901(b)(1).

[4] 42 CFR §1003.102 (a)(2).

[5] It was issued April 17, 2013 and it is also the subject of an article posted on our site.