Tony Munter summarizes the Florida False Claims Act statute below. Tony Munter is not a Florida False Claims Act Lawyer, and he is not licensed to practice in the jurisdiction of Florida. To learn more, click here to read an interview with Florida False Claims Act attorney Gary Farmer, or here for information on False Claims Act laws in other states.
Florida has been the site of many important federal false claims act cases and benefits from having its own strong state law. The Florida False Claims Act provides the opportunity for individuals to sue on behalf of the state, in much the same way as the Federal False Claims Act works with regard to the federal government.
Indeed, the Florida law is not restricted to recovering funds lost to state healthcare programs, as it also allows for suits to recover funds lost through fraud in any event involving state funds. The law was strengthened through amendments in June of 2013 which gave the Attorney General new power to investigate claims. The governor signed the legislation CS/CS/HB 935 on June 3, 2013, and it became effective as of July 1, 2013. Click here to view the full text of the law.
The Florida False Claims Act mirrors the provisions of the Federal False Claims Act in most important respects. A successful whistleblower can earn from 15 to 25 percent of a recovery when the state intervenes in a case, and from 25 to 30 percent of a recovery when the state does not intervene. The actions which give rise to liability are also similar to the federal law and Florida’s law imposes treble—or triple—damages as well as civil fines on a defendant.
Florida False Claims Act Restrictions
The Florida False Claims Act is a little restrictive on the kinds of people who are allowed to file a case. It is not possible for an employee of the state of Florida to file a case using information obtained during the course of employment under this law. However, there is nothing that precludes a Florida state employee from filing a case under the Federal False Claims Act involving federal allegations.
The state of Florida has been able to apply the law to its advantage. For example, in November of 2013, the attorney general announced a settlement with the Bank of New York Mellon “resolving allegations that the bank overcharged the Florida Retirement System Trust Fund by millions of dollars.” The settlement returned $28 million to the state after starting as a qui tam complaint.
Not surprisingly, given the prominence of health care in the state, Florida has been the site of several major federal FCA cases involving Medicare and Medicaid funds. For example, the U.S. Department of Justice hailed a recent success as “one of the largest settled against an individual doctor.”
In U.S. ex rel. Freedman v. SuarezHoyos et al., No. 04-933 (M.D. Fla.) the doctor was a dermatologist named Steven J. Wasserman, M.D., practicing in Venice, Fla. According to the DOJ, that doctor agreed to pay “…$26.1 million to resolve allegations that he violated the False Claims Act by accepting illegal kickbacks from a pathology laboratory and by billing the Medicare program for medically unnecessary services.”
While there have been larger collections against companies doing business in Florida, this case is unusual in that it involved a multi-million dollar collection against an individual doctor. The government also claimed the doctor performed “thousands of unnecessary skin surgeries” on Medicare patients. The case provides a clear demonstration that both the federal and state False Claims Acts be used to fight healthcare fraud and protect patients.
Nuances of Florida False Claims Act Cases
While the state law does not allow an individual to sue for funds lost to political subdivisions, some municipal governments within Florida have taken matters into their own hands. Accordingly, there are “local” False Claims Acts for both Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.
The sheer size of Florida’s state government, the number of Medicare and Medicaid recipients, and the state’s prominence with federal organizations like NASA and the United States Department of Defense make Florida a prime location for government contracting. As a result, Florida is likely to continue to be the site of major False Claims cases, and the Florida False Claims Act will continue to be a significant piece of legislation for the area.