Two powerful U.S. senators have floated legislation that would reverse the effects of court decisions that tightened the latitude given whistle-blowers and the government to go after ill-gotten gains under the False Claims Act.
Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) sponsored the bill, introduced Sept. 12 as the False Claims Act Correction Act of 2007. Grassley pushed changes 20 years ago that strengthened the Civil War-era law, allowing private citizens to file lawsuits on behalf of the government and collect a share of whatever money is recovered.
These decisions threaten to undermine both the spirit and intent of the 1986 amendments to the FCA, Grassley said on the Senate floor Sept. 11, according to a transcript provided by his office.
In an opinion delivered in March, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the definition of whether an individual is the original source of the information driving a so-called qui tam lawsuit, disqualifying claims that rely on information that is in the public realm. The result was heralded by the American Hospital Association and others that hoped it would curb frivolous lawsuits.
Other changes in the bill would extend the window of time the government has to decide whether to join a case.
Hospitals, often the targets of qui tam complaints based on claims submitted to Medicare and Medicaid, would find the lawsuits harder to get rid of and more expensive to settle as a result of the proposed amendments, said Beth McClain, special counsel at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson in Washington.
The AHA and the Federation of American Hospitals both said their staffs were still reviewing the proposed legislation. -- by Gregg Blesch