Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Any Materiality Error in Health Care Fraud Prosecution Harmless

US v. Palin: Palin owned an operated a drug testing facility (assisted by her co-defendant, Webb), which used two kinds of tests: a less expensive "quick-cup" test and a more expensive "analyzer" test. They ran a system whereby uninsured patients who paid cash were only given the quick-cup tests, while insured patients were given both tests, with insurers (including Medicare) being billed for both. As a result, insurers were billed for additional and more expensive tests that were not medically necessary. Palin and Webb were convicted after a bench trial of health care fraud and conspiracy. After the Supreme Court's decision in Universal Health Services, they filed a motion for acquittal or a new trial arguing that the case had changed the standard for materiality in such cases and the court had not found that element proven by the Government. The court denied the motion.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Palin and Webb's convictions. Accepting the Government's concession that materiality was an element of health care fraud, the court held that even if the district court overlooked materiality (it's initial opinion convicting Palin and Webb didn't mention it at all), any error was harmless because the record showed that the insurers wouldn't have paid for the more expensive tests had they known they weren't medically necessary. As for Palin and Webb's argument that Universal Health Services require the use of a more stringent materiality standard, the court did not decide whether that was correct, but concluded that the standard was met, anyway. The court distinguished Universal Health Services, where the victim of the fraud knew the requirements for the payments it made were being violated, there was no such evidence in the record of this case.

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