HHA Owner First Charged With Stealing Money Meant to Treat COVID-19 Patients

A Michigan woman has become the first person in the country to be charged with stealing money meant to help healthcare professionals treat COVID-19 patients.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Anima Abbas previously owned 1 on 1 Home Health, a home health agency in Indiana, which she had closed in early 2020 after Medicare issued an overpayment demand for more than $1.6 million because the HHA had submitted claims for patients who did not quality for home health services.

In January, Abbas filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The indictment alleges that her home health agency, which was never operational during the pandemic, received approximately $37,656.95 designated for the medical treatment and care of COVID-19 patients. Abbas then allegedly misappropriated the funds by issuing checks ranging from nearly $8,000 to nearly $10,000 each to family members for personal use.

She allegedly secured the funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was designed to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans suffering the economic effects resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief under that act is the Provider Relief Fund, funding provided to medical providers that must be used for their coronavirus response.

As we first wrote about last May, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS OIG) announced it would examine the effectiveness of HHS controls over the awarding and disbursement of $50 billion in Provider Relief Fund payments to hospitals and other providers.

Providers who received these funds had to sign an attestation confirming receipt and agreeing to the terms and conditions of payment and confirming the CMS cost report. In a news release last April, HHS noted that those terms and conditions included measures to prevent fraud and misuse and that there would be “significant anti-fraud and auditing work done by HHS, including the work of the Office of Inspector General.”

Given its warning, we could see further criminal indictments relating to CARES Act related fraud. Recipients should be advised that they could face charges relating to the False Claims Act if they make false claims and/or statements in connection with acceptance of federal dollars. If found guilty, you can be subject to treble damages, as well as significant jail time.

If you have received government financial assistance via the CARES Act, you should be well-advised to make sure you adhere to all terms and conditions as outlined by the act. The Health Law Offices of Anthony C. Vitale can assist you with all compliance issues. For more information contact us at  305-358-4500 or email info@vitalehealthlaw.com.

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