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Whistleblower lawsuit accuses Cigna of Medicare Advantage fraud

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A whistleblower lawsuit accuses Cigna of receiving “billions” in overpayments for its Medicare Advantage plans. The amended complaint, filed by the Department of Justice in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York a year ago, was unsealed on Wednesday.

A former service provider for Cigna’s Medicare Advantage subsidiary alleged that the company sent providers to patients’ homes to conduct a health assessment, which was then improperly submitted to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for risk adjustment. The whistleblower was a former officer for Texas Health Management, a now-defunct company that worked with Cigna-Healthspring between 2012 and 2017.

Cigna acquired HealthSpring in 2012, and currently offers Medicare Advantage plans in 17 states under this brand.

Commercial insurers who offer Medicare Advantage plans receive a monthly capitated rate from CMS for each of their covered members, which they use to cover the cost of care. For older and sicker patients — who have higher risk scores — they receive a higher rate.

A patient’s risk score is based on diagnoses assigned to the patient in the prior year. To be submitted, a patient must have had a face-to-face encounter with a provider, and the patient must be cared for or assessed.

According to the plaintiff, Cigna ran an assessment program that sent nurses and nurse-practitioners to patients’ homes, where they were expected to see 35 patients per week and generate 20 or more diagnoses per visit. They were reportedly not allowed to provide care, prescribe medications or make referrals to specialists.

The complaint described the program as “…a  data-gathering exercise used to improperly record lucrative diagnoses to fraudulently raise risk cores and increase payments from CMS.”

According to court documents, Cigna-HealthSpring used analytics to sort members into different priority categories based on their medical histories. The company also reportedly sought to recruit primary care physicians to complete the assessments, at one point offering a $150 bonus per completed exam to provider who performed a certain volume of assessments each year

The Department of Justice decided not to intervene in the case in February. Specifically, the government declined to claim that Cigna violated the False Claims Act by conducting nurse home visits that did not involve providing medical treatment.

Cigna did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.

This isn’t the first time a Medicare Advantage plan has come under scrutiny for payments.

Last year, the Office of Inspector General reviewed “billions” in estimated Medicare Advantage payments that raised concerns. Looking at 2016 encounter data, the OIG found that Medicare Advantage Organizations almost always used chart reviews to add diagnoses, and that diagnoses reported only on chart reviews — without any service records — resulted in roughly $6.7 billion in risk-adjusted payments for 2017.

Of that, an estimated $2.7 billion in payments were based on diagnoses that did not link to a specific service provided to the member.

Photo credit: zimmytws, Getty Images

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Justice Department accuses Anthem of Medicare fraud

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A lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice against Anthem accuses the insurer of collection million of dollars by failing to delete inaccurate diagnosis codes for Medicare Advantage patients. The suit was filed on Friday by Geoffrey Berman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The case alleges that Anthem falsely certified the accuracy of the diagnostic data it sent to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, causing CMS to calculate risk-adjustment payments to the insurer based on inflated diagnosis information. For example, Anthem submitted an ICD-9 diagnosis code for active lung cancer for one patient, but its chart review program did not substantiate the diagnosis, according to court documents.

Anthem implemented a retrospective chart review program using a vendor called Medi-Connect, according to the lawsuit. The insurer reportedly paid Medi-Connect to connect medical records from healthcare providers and review them to identify diagnostic codes supported by the medical records.

According to court documents, from 2014 to 2018, Anthem allegedly used the chart review program to find additional codes to submit to CMS while failing to identify and delete inaccurate codes. The chart review program brought in more than $100 million in revenue per year for Anthem, according to the complaint.

“The integrity of Medicare’s payment system is critical to our healthcare,” Berman said in a news release. “This office is dedicated to vigorously using all of the legal tools available, including the False Claims Act, to ensure the integrity of Medicare payments.  The case against Anthem today is an illustration of that commitment.”

Anthem said it was confident its health plans complied with regulations, and that it would vigorously defend its risk adjustment practices.

“This litigation is the latest in a series of investigations on Medicare Advantage plans. The government is trying to hold Anthem and other Medicare Advantage plans to payment standards that CMS does not apply to original Medicare, and those inconsistent standards violate the law,” the company wrote in an emailed statement. “The suit is another in a pattern that attempts to hold Anthem and other plans to a standard on risk adjustment practices, without providing clear guidance. Where regulations have not been clear, Anthem has been transparent with CMS about its business practices and good faith efforts to comply with program rules.”

Photo credit: zimmytws, Getty Images

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