May 13, 2020 | Healthcare Fraud
Why the U.S. Needs Courageous Whistleblowers to Step Up During the COVID-19 Pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic, and well after it’s a thing of the past, the United States will be in desperate need of “insiders” to come forward to report any and all fraudulent use of taxpayer dollars. With the government currently stretched to a breaking point in trying to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, those overseeing funding and spending are faced with unprecedented amounts of information to process. As a result, there is (and will be) less oversight across the board in both the private and public sectors.
As the government increasingly releases emergency funding (aka TRILLIONS of taxpayer dollars) to organizations and companies for COVID-19 stimulus/relief, it’s easier for fraudsters to exploit the situation. In fact, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr has urged the public to report suspected fraudulent activities related to COVID-19 (the Coronavirus) in a statement, which you can read here.
The money the government has allocated specifically to help with COVID-19 relief should only go towards COVID-19 efforts. We want to help you keep recipients of taxpayer money (e.g. suppliers, distributors, vendors, etc.) accountable, as well as make you aware of the many ways that fraud, abuse, and waste can manifest in these unprecedented times.
Whistleblowers in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic
Throughout our nation’s history, there have been many companies and individuals that quietly took advantage of human suffering to line their pockets, or else cut corners, risking harm and death to many.
In fact, what we know as the False Claims Act — the most effective and robust whistleblower protection law in the U.S. — was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln during the U.S. Civil War because contractors were selling defective products to the Union army, putting them in harm’s way.
History tells us that unlawful profiteering will inevitably happen during this pandemic. In fact, according to USA Today, Americans have already gotten scammed out of about $13.4 million from coronavirus-related consumer fraud.
The point being, without the inside knowledge of whistleblowers to expose fraudulent behaviors, there is no way to recover the ill-gotten gains and a slim chance that such behavior can be stopped to prevent future fraud by these bad actors. And the consequences of such behavior can be far-reaching and dire if left unchecked.
If you know of instances of misuse of federal funding during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, please don’t wait. We at Carolina Whistleblower Attorneys are ready to speak with you about your options. Please give us a call at 1-888-292-8852 or contact us here. Our experienced team values your trust and will keep everything discreet and confidential.
Because there are many ways that fraudsters can take advantage of our current crisis, we simply won’t cover every issue in this blog. However, it is our hope that we can shed some light on some potentially unlawful behaviors to help you spot and report such misconduct.
Products fraud: Personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, testing, and other coronavirus-related medical equipment
The victims of the COVID-19 pandemic — and the superheroes on the front lines trying to help them — require proper safety equipment and machines. The disease and its rapid spread exposed shortages in PPEs and medical supplies across the country, so the government has invested extraordinary sums into manufacturing to encourage immediate production of these necessary items. As an example, here is an article featuring several ventilator companies’ race to meet the desperate demand for more of these life-saving machines.
Between the country’s desperation for medical supplies, the government’s focus on myriad issues, and the influx of money into certain industries, the current crisis is ripe for fraudulent behavior. Whistleblowers can and should come forth in this time is if they witness fraud by those manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors of medical masks, gloves, hospital gowns, and other such equipment.
Say you work at a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or ventilator manufacturing company, and the government has pumped money into the company so that it can divert manufacturing efforts to making more of the products necessary to protect first-responders or to help COVID-19 patients. Here are just a few examples of how fraud could occur:
- The company is cutting corners during manufacturing, making products with a high failure rate while pocketing the government funds as profit
- To save money, the company is skipping or reducing quality controls
- The items being produced do not meet the specifications of the items for which the government is paying
- The items may not be getting sent or delivered to the states or healthcare providers that ordered them
Faulty products have been exposed by whistleblowers before. For example, some of our attorneys continues to help victims of defective 3M earplugs used in the military. According to a whistleblower, 3M knew that their Aearo Technologies Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs (CAEv2) had design defects and sold them anyway. People who used them suffered tinnitus and hearing loss, and we continue to see the harmful consequences of 3M’s negligence.
We want to help you come forward if you see something similarly suspicious happening around you. Call the Carolina Whistleblower Attorneys at 1-888-292-8852, or contact us here for a completely confidential and discreet case evaluation.
Healthcare services fraud: Government-funded organizations helping COVID-19 efforts
If the government is funding your company or organization helping with the pandemic, you may be eligible to bring a qui tam claim under the False Claims Act (FCA) if you see any misuse of money. That goes for any disaster relief money that’s been put towards helping hard-hit communities, as well.
The money the government is allocating to businesses and organizations to help COVID-19 efforts should always, and only, go towards COVID-19 efforts.
Time will tell when and how fraudsters took advantage of taxpayer money, especially when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid programs. Before the pandemic, there was a case that arose from a Georgia hospital charging Medicare and Medicaid programs ridiculous amounts for emergency transportation services when patients didn’t actually need transport or medical treatment. They were doing so in order to get more money from Medicare and Medicaid, which are jointly funded by federal and state taxpayer dollars. Since the pandemic began, there are likely many other ways that fraudsters are upcharging or finding ways to take more money from the government, and it’s up to whistleblowers to bring them to light.3
We encourage you to report healthcare facilities and providers that charge Medicare or Medicaid for services that patients don’t need. Medicare and Medicaid are federal and state-funded programs, which means taxpayer dollars are being used, and fraud of any kind involving taxpayer dollars would fall under the FCA qui tam whistleblower protection laws. Call us at 1-888-292-8852, or contact us here for a completely confidential and discreet case evaluation.
Workplace whistleblower protections
Many places are forcing their employees to work in unsafe conditions. If you reported unsafe working conditions or fraud, and were subsequently fired for it, know that there is a patchwork of state and federal laws that potentially make it illegal for your employer to retaliate against you. In North Carolina, the anti-retaliatory statute can be found here.
The federal law that protects workers from retaliation for complaining to their employer or other government agency about unsafe working conditions is called the Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA). The U.S. Department of Labor recently sent out a press release reminding employers across the nation that they are prohibited from retaliating against employees who blow the whistle on unsafe working conditions under OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Read the press release here.
Unsafe working conditions are unfair to workers, and in some cases illegal. You can initiate a whistleblower claim if you witness unsafe conditions at your place of employment. Perhaps you or a coworker or even several have been injured due to these conditions. While most people are aware that we can help them pursue workers’ compensation claims, the unsafe working conditions also are an opportunity to blow the whistle.
Now is time for Carolina Whistleblowers like you to step up
According to our own whistleblower attorney Gary Jackson, “The magnitude and urgency of our current crisis present a fertile ground for abuse by companies seeking to exploit the opportunities to profit through defrauding the government. The people who are best situated to tell us what’s happening are the ones on the ground who see what’s happening behind the doors.”
We understand that in these trying times, it can be difficult to make the decision to blow the whistle. We also understand that you may have pressing questions that need answers, like:
- Should I wait until I have evidence to bring a whistleblower claim forward?
- Should I report the fraud to our internal reporting process first?
- What if other people also know of the fraud?
These are important questions, the answer to which may have a significant impact on your potential claim. Consider that under whistleblowing laws, there are time limits controlling when you can bring evidence of fraud forward. If too much time passes, the opportunity to proceed with a claim may be lost. We are here to help answer these questions and guide you through the process. Read our You-First policy here.
Call the Carolina Whistleblower Attorneys at 1-888-292-8852, or contact us here for a completely confidential and discreet case evaluation. The conversation costs you nothing, and can set your mind at ease. We can evaluate your case and help you build it. And we charge no fee unless we recover.2
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Contact the Carolina
If you’re wondering if it’s a good idea to speak with a whistleblower lawyer about what you know, let us set the record straight.
- Corporate ethics hotlines can be risky and may lead to termination. If you’ve already done this, call us immediately.
- Your coworkers could be aware of the fraud – or complicit in it – and you should not talk to them about it.
- The first claim to be filed under the False Claims Act can proceed – if you’re not first, you’re at a serious disadvantage and may get nothing (another reason not to speak to your coworkers about it).
- A confidential discussion costs you a few minutes, but could save you time, stress, and money.