Federal Agencies Aim to Prevent Fraud and Abuse Related to COVID19 Crisis

By Byrne Legal Group | Issue 08

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, a number of scammers and criminals have already started trying to profit from the public’s fear regarding the pandemic. Fraudulent schemes asking patients to either pay cash or trade personal information for unapproved COVID-19 tests and treatments have popped up online and in social media. Many of these scams are aimed elderly individuals.

Not surprisingly, federal agencies have already taken steps to target and prevent these COVID-19 scams. The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced that it filed its first enforcement action against a fraudulent COVID-19 website, and Attorney General William Barr released a memo directing the Department to prioritize detection, investigation, and prosecution of illegal conduct related to the pandemic. Likewise, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also announced efforts to combat COVID-19 scams. FDA is focusing on preventing the marketing of fake COVID-19 tests and treatments, while OIG released an alert warning the public about potential fraud and the importance of protecting personal information such as Medicare and Medicaid numbers.

Furthermore, the federal government issued new guidance aimed at allowing healthcare providers to respond more nimbly to the crisis. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) created a Toolkit offering guidance on Telehealth and Telemedicine Policy to encourage physicians to engage further in telemedicine. In accordance with CMS’s guidance, OIG announced that it will not bring any enforcement actions against physicians for waiving any cost-sharing for telehealth visits, so long as CMS payment and coverage rules are met. CMS has also published specific guidance on a range of COVID-19 issues, including preventing the spread of the virus in retirement communities and postponing elective surgeries and dental procedures.

Finally, with the unprecedented levels of funding that Congress allocated to fight the vius, the government is sure to be aggressively pursuing allegations of fraud and abuse related to government relief programs. President Trump has already announced plans to combat illegal hording of necessary supplies, and additional efforts to prosecute healthcare fraud are sure to follow.

Should you have any questions about telemedicine programs, the federal government’s response to the COVID19 crisis, or potential healthcare fraud issues, please contact Byrne Legal Group attorneys Davis Powell and Jerry Canaan.