On December 21, 2018, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced in a press release the recoveries obtained in settlements and judgments from civil matters involving fraud and those brought under the False Claims Act (“FCA”) for the fiscal year (“FY”) ending September 30, 2018. While total recoveries were $2.88 billion—the ninth consecutive year exceeding $2 billion—this was down almost $600 million from FY 2017, the lowest level since 2009 and the second year in a row that total recoveries fell.

However, and of particular note to those involved in the healthcare and life sciences industries, over $2.5 billion—$329 million more than in FY 2017, and almost 88 percent of all recoveries—were generated from healthcare-related matters. Notably, recoveries in such cases brought by the DOJ directly rose to $568 million, the second-highest level since 1987. And, while more than 50 percent of the recoveries are identified as attributable to a finite number of matters, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, managed care providers, hospitals, pharmacies, hospice organizations, laboratories, and physicians all continued to be enforcement targets.

Qui Tam Cases: A Concentration on Healthcare

The statistics also reflect that cases filed by qui tam relators are a principal driver of DOJ’s FCA enforcement efforts. While the number of qui tam cases filed dropped in FY 2018, 645 matters were brought last year, representing almost 85 percent of all new matters. Relative to the healthcare industry, 446 new qui tam cases were brought in FY 2018, a drop from FY 2017 but the fifth highest number since 1987. About 88 percent of all new FCA matters pursued against entities involved in the healthcare industry were brought by relators.

The greatest risk to entities continues to be qui tam matters in which the United States elects to intervene. More than 90 percent of all dollars recovered from qui tam cases in FY 2018 were from cases in which the government elected to intervene. However, relators continue to pursue matters post-declination. In FY 2018, almost $120 million was recovered from such matters; while a sharp decline from the $445 million collected in FY 2017, almost 70 percent of all recoveries in cases pursued post-declination were from the healthcare industry.

Although plainly not a record year, expect that these statistics will still serve to encourage new filings. In FY 2018, more than $300 million was paid out in relators’ share awards; more than $266 million of which came from matters involving the healthcare industry. While these were the lowest levels since 2009, since 1988 relators have been paid over $5 billion for matters brought involving the healthcare industry alone (total payments, all industries, exceed $7 billion). The potential for a major reward—as supported by these numbers—clearly continues to drive the filing of new cases.

Individuals in Focus

DOJ’s announcement also emphasized its effort in holding individuals accountable. The press release lists multiple examples of individual enforcement, whether pursued through joint and several liability along with corporate defendants, or otherwise. Significantly, multimillion-dollar recoveries were generated this year from individuals involved in the healthcare industry.

Recent announcements from the DOJ reflecting revisions to the “Yates Memo” suggest that senior corporate management, as well as members of boards of directors, continue to face enforcement risk.

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While overall recoveries dropped, the dollars generated from enforcement in the healthcare space grew and remain staggering. The statistics will only serve to encourage the government and qui tam relators to continue to pursue corporations and individuals involved in the healthcare and life sciences industries. They are also a strong reminder of the importance of the development and maintenance of programs designed to deter improper conduct and promote compliance across all organizational levels.