2 March 2023. The United States Department of Justice won a False Claims Act jury trial against an ophthalmic surgical products distributor. The jury returned a verdict that the surgical products distributor violated the False Claims Act and Anti-Kickback Statute to the tune of $43 million. The False Claims Act assesses civil penalties for each violation and a multiplier of three times the amount of damages to the government (i.e., “treble damages”). The ophthalmic surgical products distributor submitted 64,575 false claims to Medicare, the jury found. The whistleblower will receive between 15-25% of the government’s recovery, which will be far more than $130 million once the court applies the multiplier and penalties. This case is a fantastic example of the public-private partnership because private plaintiffs’ counsel worked side-by-side with the prosecutors during the litigation and trial.
According to court proceedings, the Cameron-Ehlen Group, Inc., d/b/a Precision Lens, and its owner Paul Ehlen were found to have paid kickbacks to healthcare providers performing cataract surgeries and then billing those surgeries to Medicare. The kickbacks took the form of extravagant trips to major sports tournaments and other high-end vacations to exclusive destinations, as well as reselling frequent flyer miles at a discount to physicians, in return for those physicians using Precision Lens products in cataract procedures. As a result of these kickbacks, the jury found 64,5757 false claims were submitted to the Medicare program between 2006-2015. The jury found Precision Lens and its owner guilty of their violations and ruled in favor of the United States.
The False Claims Act and Anti-Kickback Statute both serve to protect government funds from fraud, waste, and abuse. Violations of these laws can greatly affect the Medicare program’s financial solvency and the public’s trust in healthcare providers, which is why it is so important that violations be taken seriously and enforced appropriately. The Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota said about the case, “The jury’s verdict protects the integrity of the Medicare system for patients and those healthcare providers who operate fairly and legally. Companies may not use expensive trips and other items of value to persuade physicians to use their products, and physicians may not accept that remuneration.”
This successful jury trial shows the dedication of the Department of Justice to protecting government programs and taxpayers from false claims. By standing up for their rights and utilizing the False Claims Act, whistleblowers play an important role in ensuring false claims are uncovered and prosecuted. If you believe you have knowledge of false claims or violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute, contact a qui tam attorney.
If you would like to report Medicare fraud, contact attorneys at Tycko & Zavareei LLP. Eva Gunasekera and Renée Brooker are former officials of the United States Department of Justice and prosecuted whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act. Eva was the Senior Counsel for Health Care Fraud. Renée served as Assistant Director at the United States Department of Justice, the office that supervises False Claims Act cases in all 94 United States District Courts. Eva and Renée now represent whistleblowers. For a free consultation, you can contact Eva Gunasekera at [email protected] or contact Renée at [email protected] (tel.: 202-417-3664). Visit Tycko & Zavareei LLP’s website for whistleblowers to learn more at https://www.fraudfighters.net/.