Acting US Attorney Joel Levin says the new dedicated unit aims to bring “even greater focus, efficiency, and impact to our efforts in this important area.”
The US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois recently announced the creation of a Health Care Fraud Unit—a team of five assistant US attorneys devoted to prosecuting all types of healthcare fraud cases, including fraudulent billing schemes and diversion of controlled substances.
The announcement came just days after the largest US Department of Justice national healthcare fraud enforcement “takedown” action against 412 defendants across 41 federal districts for the alleged participation in schemes involving over $1 billion in fraudulent healthcare billing. Fifteen individuals, including two Chicago-area licensed physicians, are facing federal criminal charges and potential Office of Inspector General (OIG) exclusion as a result of this action.
Nationwide, US Attorney offices have a major role in healthcare fraud enforcement. In Fiscal Year 2016 alone, US Attorney offices opened 975 new criminal healthcare fraud investigations and 930 new civil healthcare fraud investigations.
While the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois has a long history of prosecuting healthcare fraud cases, the creation of a dedicated unit within the office may have a number of quantifiable effects, including the following:
Rise in Criminal Investigations and Prosecutions. The dedicated unit, comprised of criminal prosecutors, will focus on the criminal prosecution of entities and individuals when the alleged healthcare fraud rises to the level of criminal culpability. As such, there likely will be a rise in investigative activity that includes attempted interviews of potential targets, subjects, or witnesses by government agents; the issuance of grand jury subpoenas; and the execution of search warrants.
In addition, the criminal prosecutors undoubtedly will work closely with government attorneys assigned to the civil division and—to the extent permitted in accordance with grand jury secrecy rules—share certain information with civil division attorneys.
Rise in Enforcement Investigations and Actions. With increased focus, resources, and the sharing of information obtained from criminal investigations, there also may be a rise in the number of civil investigative demands issued to companies in the healthcare industry that are suspected of fraud, waste, and abuse. The US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois may become more proactive in its efforts—alongside the OIG—to increase the collection of civil penalties against healthcare organizations and executives.
Rise in Qui Tam Suits. With a dedicated Health Care Fraud Unit, the Northern District of Illinois may become a more attractive venue for whistleblowers seeking to recover under the False Claims Act for alleged fraud, waste, and abuse.
The new Health Care Fraud Unit will operate within the criminal division of the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois. Assistant US Attorney Heather McShain will lead the unit, and Assistant US Attorney Stephen Chahn Lee will serve as senior counsel.