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Archive for October, 2011

Paying for crime…

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Fraud subjects repaid BWC $8.5 million during fiscal year 2011!

For 18 years we have faithfully fulfilled the mission of our Special Investigations Department. We have effectively and proactively prevented losses to the workers’ compensation system; and deterred, detected, investigated, and prosecuted workers’ compensation fraud. This recovery of money from subjects of investigations protects the BWC State Fund – the fund which is used to collect premiums and pay claim costs. This serves to ensure employers pay their fair share, and those that attempt to get more are punished.

The Special Investigations Department works with the BWC Collections and Legal departments to ensure overpayments and premiums due resulting from our investigations are returned. The following are some of the ways we ensure debts are repaid:

  • Certify accounts to the Office of the Attorney General of Ohio for collection of past due debts;
  • File liens against debtors’ assets;
  • Collect overpayment from future benefit awards;
  • Pursue decertification by BWC for providers that fail to pay back overpayments resulting from fraudulent or inappropriate billing; and
  • Pursue an injunctive relief from courts (i.e., stop work order) against an employer that fails to pay premium.

Restitution also serves to deter prospective criminals from attempting to victimize our BWC State Fund. Criminologists tell us that criminals make a conscious decision to avoid committing crimes against victims whenever there is a high likelihood of being detected, investigated, prosecuted and punished. Accordingly, BWC may administratively order subjects to pay the State Fund more than the actual amount they steal. BWC may impose a financial penalty upon the subjects of closed, founded fraud investigations. For example, BWC may require employers to pay a penalty that is up to ten times of their unpaid premium amount.

Moreover, SID refers its cases to criminal prosecutors at all levels – municipal, county, state and federal. These experienced prosecutors secure appropriate indictments, convictions and sentences. At sentencing, criminal courts often order our convicted fraud subjects to reimburse BWC for the amount of monies stolen and our investigative costs. Therefore, prior to the sentencing of a convicted defendant, SID fraud analysts and special agents submit Victim Impact Statements to the court. In these statements, we ask the court to order the defendant to pay full restitution and our costs to investigate the subject.

Criminal courts often stipulate in their official judgment entries that our convicted defendants must pay BWC restitution according to a monthly payment plan. Indeed, a defendant’s failure to do so could be deemed by the court to constitute a violation of the conditions of probation. The court may then revoke probation and immediately impose upon the sentenced subject a period of incarceration. Thus, to avoid incarceration, our fraud probationers are fairly and appropriately incented are make restitution to BWC.

A Case In Point

During fiscal year 2011, we received, via a U.S. District Court, three restitution checks from a convicted provider subject totaling more than $1.2 million.

In 2006, a jury convicted this provider fraud subject on 56 felony counts, including two counts of wrongful death due to medical malpractice, 21 counts health-care fraud, 8 counts of corrupting another with drugs, 15 counts of mail fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud. After reviewing victim impact statements, the court ordered the provider subject to serve two life sentences, 20 years and 10 years of incarceration. The court ordered the subject to pay $14.3 million in restitution to 15 victims, including $7,275,762 to BWC.

Be on the Lookout

Look for our next fraud awareness article that will discuss the SID digital forensics unit. Meanwhile, be sure to read more about fraud investigations in our SID FY 2011 Annual Report.

If you suspect anyone is committing workers’ compensation fraud, let us know. You may report it online at http://bit.ly/reportfraud or you may speak with a fraud hotline agent by calling 1-800-OHIOBWC.

In summary: SID Health Care Provider Team (HCPT)

October 27, 2011 1 comment

When providers commit workers’ compensation system fraud and other crimes against the State Insurance Fund, the SID Health Care Provider Team (HCPT) responds to ensure compliance and integrity of the system. The team is comprised of dedicated analysts and agents located statewide. SID has recently increased its staffing to combat provider fraud, such as billing for unnecessary or non-rendered services, practicing without an active license, overprescribing narcotics, operating pill mills, trafficking in drugs, operating injury mills, unbundling and/or upcoding.

In the last article, we explained that SID staff members furnish orientation and training to MCOs in how to meet their contractual obligation to detect and report fraud. These SID staff members, who successfully drafted and finalized “Special Investigations – MCO Fraud Reporting and Referral Requirements,” are professionals assigned to HCPT.

To bring criminal providers to justice, these talented HCPT professionals conduct joint investigations with dozens of other agencies, such as the FBI, IRS – Criminal Investigations, U.S. Department of Justice – Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and local law enforcement narcotics units, vice units and drug task forces. During the last two years, HCPT made 36 criminal referrals for prosecution to state, county and local prosecutors. During last year alone, their work resulted in the identification of over $8.2 million in savings to the State Insurance Fund.

Be on the Lookout

This concludes our provider fraud awareness series. Look for our next fraud awareness article that will describe how we collect on the debts owed to the BWC State Insurance Fund by subjects of our investigations. In the meantime, be sure to read more about the BWC Special Investigations Department’s strategies and successes in our SID FY 2011 Annual Report.

If you suspect that a subject is committing workers’ compensation fraud, let us know. You may report it online at http://bit.ly/reportfraud or you may speak with a fraud hotline agent by calling 1-800-OHIOBWC.

Managed care organizations (MCOs): Medically managing claims and combating fraud

BWC contracts with managed care organizations (MCOs) to provide several services to both employers and injured workers. The primary service they provide is case management of the medical services the injured worker needs to get better and return to work at the earliest, safest interval. In providing medical case management services, MCOs are in close contact with injured workers, providers of record, and employers to promote the delivery of treatment and a timely return to work.

To provide effective case management, MCOs furnish core medical services, such as:

  • Ongoing contact with the injured worker to assist in finding a physician to provide treatment, to assess their work status, and to help move treatment forward;
  • Ongoing contact with the provider of record (the injured worker’s lead physician) to determine the best treatment plan or plan of care for the injured worker, the status of treatment, and the injured worker’s work restrictions, if any;
  • Ongoing contact with the employer to determine the injured worker’s work status and the availability of light duty or restricted work; and
  • Constant coordination between the provider of record and employer regarding treatment expectations and facilitation of a safe and efficient return to work.

While performing these services, the MCO is in position to identify potential fraudulent activity. After being in close contact with the provider and having knowledge of a specific claim, often the MCO may be alerted to inconsistencies or red flags. Meticulous reviews of the medical documentation and provider billing data may detect errors and fraud. If fraud is suspected, the MCO should timely report such to BWC for investigation. This obligation of each MCO to combat fraud is specified in a signed MCO agreement with BWC. The obligation includes:

“The MCO agrees to identify and report any suspected fraudulent or deceptive behavior committed by injured workers, employers, providers or any other person or entity…”

This fraud detection and reporting obligation is essential. To support each MCO in meeting its obligation, we furnish clear guidance and direction, as specified in an 8-page appendix to the MCO agreement, entitled “Special Investigations – MCO Fraud Reporting and Referral Requirements.” For example, each MCO is required to establish and maintain an effective fraud detection and corrections program. We furnish orientation and training to MCOs in how to meet this requirement because they can and should detect fraud.

A Case in Point

An MCO employee furnished an allegation to the SID Health Care Provider Team (HCPT) pertaining to a provider. The source detected the provider subject was over-prescribing in claims.

HCPT conducted an investigation in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice – Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and a local law enforcement vice unit. The multi-agency investigation included an undercover operation, a search warrant, and interviews with patients, employees and former employees. The investigation found the subject billed for services not rendered, upcoded bills, tampered with records, and engaged in drug trafficking. Even while under investigation, the subject voluntarily surrendered his DEA certificate. The State Medical Board of Ohio permanently revoked the subject’s license to practice medicine in the State of Ohio.

The case resulted in the identification of savings to the Ohio workers’ compensation system of more than $685,000. The Office of the United States Attorneys for Ohio’s Northern District is currently reviewing the case for prosecutorial merit.

Be on the Lookout

Look for our next fraud awareness article that will conclude this series pertaining to provider fraud. Meanwhile, be sure to read more about provider fraud investigations in our SID FY 2011 Annual Report.

If you suspect that a subject is committing workers’ compensation fraud, let us know. You may report it online at http://bit.ly/reportfraud or you may speak with a fraud hotline agent by calling 1-800-OHIOBWC.

Violating the code: Providers who unbundle or upcode when billing BWC

Some providers commit fraud by billing BWC separately for services that BWC requires to be billed together, as a single or “bundled” service. We refer to this fraudulent act as “unbundling.” For example, BWC requires a provider to cleanse the claimant’s skin with an antiseptic prior to giving him or her any injection. BWC requires providers to bill this as one, single service — for the cleansing of the skin and the injection. Providers are prohibited from unbundling this service. However, a criminal provider, motivated by greed, may attempt to circumvent the bundled billing requirement in order to bill BWC for a greater, total amount.

Some providers commit fraud by billing BWC using a more expensive treatment code than the appropriate code for the service actually performed. The costs of some medical services are based upon the length of time the service is provided. Services are often priced in minute increments. For example, BWC will reimburse a provider for some therapies based upon the number of minutes furnished to a claimant. However, a criminal provider may bill BWC for more minutes of therapy — at a greater cost — than they actually furnished the claimant.

A Case In Point

We detected two brothers — both Illinois psychiatrists, and one an owner/provider of an Ohio psychiatric practice — were upcoding bills they submitted to BWC for psychiatric services. Data analysis by our intelligence unit revealed the psychiatrists billed BWC for more than twenty hours of individual psychotherapy on a single day.

During the course of our investigation, we conducted undercover surveillance, a search warrant, record analyses, subject and patient interviews, and grand jury subpoenas. We obtained evidence to substantiate the allegation that the subjects falsified treatment notes and billed BWC for services not being rendered and upcoded bills for services that were provided. We determined the Ohio provider was spending significantly less time with his patients than he billed to BWC in their claims. The investigation uncovered instances in which the Ohio provider spent less than five minutes with the patient, yet he billed BWC for 45 to 50 minutes of individual psychotherapy. We also proved both brothers billed BWC for services when patients were not even present in the office.

The owner/provider of the Ohio practice pleaded no contest to one fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud. The court sentenced this subject to serve 5 years of community control and ordered him to pay $78,573 in restitution and investigative costs to BWC. His brother, the Illinois-based provider, pleaded no contest to one first-degree misdemeanor charge of workers’ compensation fraud. The court ordered this subject to pay $27,423 in restitution and investigative costs to BWC. Subsequently, he made payment in full. An employee of the practice pleaded guilty to one first-degree misdemeanor charge of workers’ compensation fraud. The court ordered this subject to pay a $250 fine.

BWC de-certified both providers; they may no longer provide services to BWC claimants. The convicted owner/provider closed the Ohio practice.

Be on the Lookout

Red flags that may indicate a provider is unbundling or upcoding:

  • Provider inexplicably attempts to explain or justify his/her billing practices to a patient;
  • Provider furnishes services to more patients in a period of time than one suspects is feasible; and
  • Provider furnishes a service for a shorter period of time than the patient suspects is needed for effective treatment.

Look for our next fraud provider awareness article that will discuss the role of managed care organizations (MCOs) in the Ohio workers’ compensation system. Meanwhile, be sure to read more about provider fraud investigations in our SID FY 2011 Annual Report.

If you suspect that a subject is committing workers’ compensation fraud, let us know. You may report it online at http://bit.ly/reportfraud or you may speak with a fraud hotline agent by calling 1-800-OHIOBWC.

Milling about: Providers who operate injury mills

October 20, 2011 1 comment

In the second article of this Provider Fraud Awareness series, we quoted Dr. Louis Lasagna as having taught medical students to meet the following standard of conduct in the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath:

“I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures that are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism” [non-treatment].”

In the last article we examined examples of overtreatment when we discussed the scourge of criminal providers who overprescribe narcotic drugs. In this article we discuss criminal providers who engage in overtreatment of their patients by overusing multiple, repetitive, often unnecessary and ineffective, medical services. For example, these criminal providers treat patients by performing many diagnostics tests with little or no advance explanation or follow-up interpretation and often for extended periods of time.

Such a practice – from which providers conspire to furnish unnecessary care in order to overbill BWC and/or other insurers – is commonly known as an “injury mill”. In an article entitled “Insurance fraud: How to spot a personal injury mill,” Stephen Barrett, MD, Charles Bender, DC and Frank P Brennan, Esq., describe injury mills as follows:

‘The key players are (a) providers who hope to profit from their expensive services; (b) attorneys who hope to profit from insurance settlements, which often are a multiple of the health-care expense; and (c) patients who may or may not have full knowledge of the conspiracy. Some mills use “runners” to recruit accident victims, but some mills even fabricate their own accidents.’

Clearly, the intent of an injury mill is not to effectively treat the patient’s unique symptoms, to provide a cure, but rather only to maximize billings per patient per visit. Consequently, these criminal providers furnish patients short, incomplete and/or infrequent medical examinations. Injury mill providers ignore the true medical care needs of our claimants.

Be on the Lookout

Red flags that may indicate a provider is operating an injury mill:

  • Provider furnishes unnecessary treatments and/or services, often for extended periods of time;
  • “One-stop shopping” — the provider practice includes multiple provider types, typically at a single location; e.g., medical doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, and massage therapists;
  • Physical examinations of patients are infrequent, short and incomplete;
  • Provider routinely maximizes billing per patient per visit, for example by performing many diagnostics tests with little or no advance explanation and follow-up interpretation;
  • Provider has close working relationships with attorneys;
  • Provider bills increasing units of service for massage and physical therapy;
  • Provider uses the same treatment even after the patient reports physical health improvement;
  • Patients have multiple claims and frequently receive treatment from the provider; and
  • Patients file new claims shortly after settling their older claims.

Look for our next fraud provider awareness article that will discuss providers who commit fraud by unbundling and/or upcoding bills. Meanwhile, be sure to read more about provider fraud investigations in our SID FY 2011 Annual Report.

If you suspect that a subject is committing workers’ compensation fraud, let us know. You may report it online at http://bit.ly/reportfraud or you may speak with a fraud hotline agent by calling 1-800-OHIOBWC.

Danger — Trafficking area ahead!: Providers who overprescribe narcotics, operate pill mills, and/or traffick in drugs

In the opening article in this Provider Fraud Awareness series, we noted some providers, acting with hypocrisy, violate their Hippocratic Oath and/or professional commitment to prescribe regimens for the good of patients according to the provider’s ability and judgment and never do harm to anyone. These providers deceive us and commit crimes. In that October 7th article, entitled “Hypocrisy rather than Hippocrates: Providers who harm patients and society,” we wrote: “They harm claimants, sometimes fatally…prescribing unnecessary drugs, operating pill mills and injury mills, or drug trafficking.”

Well, these words are no overstatement, embellishment or hyperbole. Proof of such exists throughout our beloved state and beyond. That is why, in a February 2011 press release, the FBI affirmed it “remains committed to working additional health care fraud investigations … to address drug diversion, Internet pharmacies, prescription drug abuse, and other health care fraud threats.” At that time the FBI reported its agents were nationally working more than 2,600 pending health care fraud investigations. Indeed, during fiscal year 2010 alone, the FBI’s collaborative efforts with law enforcement partners – including our BWC Special Investigations Department – led to charges against approximately 930 individuals and convictions of almost 750 subjects. The FBI concluded these investigations had “dismantled dozens of criminal enterprises engaged in widespread health care fraud.”

In a May 21, 2011, Columbus Dispatch article, entitled “Kasich signs ‘pill mill’ bill,” Ohio Governor John Kasich offered insight and leadership. He noted: “We really are a main artery for the transport of drugs, not just in Ohio, but through Ohio to other places.” Thus, Governor Kasich concluded: “We have to really engage even more in the war on drugs in this state.” As a member of Ohio Governor’s Opiate Drug Task Force, we take decisive action in the war to protect Ohioans from pill mill operators. To eradicate this scourge of criminal providers we continue to conduct joint investigations with other agencies. In addition to the FBI, these agencies include:  IRS – Criminal Investigations, U.S. Department of Justice – Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and local law enforcement narcotics units, vice units and drug task forces.

A Case In Point

We received an allegation that a Cuyahoga County doctor was prescribing significant amounts of narcotic drugs. The SID Health Care Provider Team (HCPT) conducted an investigation — with the DEA, local law enforcement, and a local drug task force — that included undercover operations and a search warrant. Our undercover operations revealed the subject prescribed narcotic medications to undercover agents without providing them with proper medical examinations and then billed BWC improperly for their office visits. Moreover, the subject wrote a prescription for an undercover agent who advised the subject she was not experiencing any pain. The investigation found the provider continued to prescribe narcotics to patients who were known doctor shoppers, even after she received warnings from pharmacies, parents, spouses, social service agencies and police departments. Our investigation proved the subject falsified records to indicate she delivered services that she did not furnish and that she falsely elevated pain levels and fabricated tests to justify her continual overprescribing of pain medication to patients.

The subject pled guilty to one count each of attempted theft, attempted workers’ compensation fraud and telecommunications fraud, all felonies of the fifth degree. The court sentenced her to serve two years of probation. The court ordered the subject to pay $5,067 in restitution to BWC and a $2,500 fine. The court further stipulated the subject may no longer be a provider of services to BWC claimants.

Be on the Lookout

Red flags that may indicate a provider is overprescribing drugs, operating a pill mill, and/or drug trafficking:

  • The provider ignores a patient’s or guardian’s questions about the necessity of a prescription narcotic drug;
  • The provider dismisses a patient’s or guardian’s questions about the necessity of a prescription narcotic drug with the excuse: “It will cost the patient nothing. The Bureau or another insurer will cover the expense;”
  • The provider fails to require a patient to complete urinalysis drug testing to confirm the patient is taking the prescribed narcotic drug;
  • The provider writes a prescription for a cash payment by the patient;
  • The provider prescribes narcotic drugs without examining and/or treating the patient; and
  • The provider’s patients sell and/or barter their prescribed narcotic drugs to others.

Look for our next fraud provider awareness article that will discuss providers who operate injury mills. Meanwhile, be sure to read more about provider fraud investigations in our SID FY 2011 Annual Report.

If you suspect that a subject is committing workers’ compensation fraud, let us know. You may report it online at http://bit.ly/reportfraud or you may speak with a fraud hotline agent by calling 1-800-OHIOBWC.

Toledo Man Caught on Camera Roofing While on Workers’ Comp

October 18, 2011 1 comment

Daniel Uribes sentenced in fraud case

A Toledo (Lucas County) man has been sentenced in a fraud case after investigators from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) captured video not only showing him working a roofing job while receiving benefits, but also leaving the worksite to attend a hearing on his workers’ comp case, and later returning to finish the job. The investigation, conducted by BWC’s Special Investigations Department (SID) resulted in a guilty plea by Daniel Uribes, who was sentenced the Toledo Municipal Court last week.

“It is ironic that our investigators were able to catch Uribes on tape taking a break from his illegal work activity to attend a hearing related to his workers’ compensation case,” said BWC Administrator/CEO Stephen Buehrer.  “It is also telling of the lengths some will go when committing fraud, and a reminder to us of the importance of our work to put an end to it.”

Uribes became the subject of an investigation after SID obtained evidence that he engaged in roofing work with his father while receiving Temporary Total Disability benefits for a workplace injury.  A surveillance operation showed Uribes was performing roofing work at a residence in Toledo.  During the surveillance, Uribes left the job site to travel to downtown Toledo and attend his Industrial Commission hearing on a separate issue related to his incarceration while collecting disability.  After the hearing, the investigators followed Uribes back to the work site, where he returned to work on the roof and more video was obtained. 

Uribes originally pleaded not guilty but withdrew and entered a no contest plea to a misdemeanor charge of workers’ compensation fraud.  The judge sentenced Mr. Uribes to ten days in the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio, with credit for time served.  Mr. Uribes had already paid his full restitution of $3,254.30. 

If you suspect that a subject is committing workers’ compensation fraud, let us know. You may report it online at http://bit.ly/reportfraud or you may speak with a fraud hotline agent by calling 1-800-OHIOBWC.

https://www.ohiobwc.com/home/current/releases/2011/101811.asp