The first round is over in U.S. ex rel. Paradies v. AseraCare, Inc., the False Claims Act (FCA) case pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama that, as we previously reported, was the first in which a court bifurcated an FCA trial between the elements of falsity and scienter. The jury considered the element of falsity as to 121 hospice claims, and on October 15, 2015, concluded that 104 of those claims were not eligible for reimbursement by Medicare under applicable regulations for end-of-life care. The case will now continue to the second phase, concerning scienter, in which the jury will be asked to determine whether AseraCare knowingly submitted false claims.
The now-concluded falsity phase was notable because, as we previously discussed, the court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the element of falsity where the government solely relied upon a sampling of claims reviewed by an expert.
According to the jury instructions in the falsity phase, one requirement of the claims AseraCare submitted to Medicare was that the patients were properly certified as terminally ill (which is when the patient’s medical prognosis is a life expectancy of six months or less if the illness runs its normal course.) The certification for the initial benefit period required that both the patient’s attending physician, if the patient had one, and the hospice program’s medical director state that they considered the patient to be terminally ill based on the doctor’s clinical judgment. This certification required clinical information and documentation to support the prognosis. For each of the claims in the sample, the parties did not dispute the existence of the certifications, but instead whether they were proper.
On October 16, 2015, AseraCare renewed its motion for judgment as a matter of law as to the jury’s findings in phase one. We will watch and report on the outcome and the scienter phase of the case.