Anthem's headquarters in Indianapolis. Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Department of Justice has sued Anthem, alleging that the health insurance company knowingly submitted inaccurate medical codes to the federal government from 2014 to 2018 as a way to get higher payments for its Medicare Advantage plans and turned "a blind eye" to coding problems.

Why it matters: This is one of the largest Medicare Advantage fraud lawsuits to date, and federal prosecutors believe they have more than enough to evidence to claim that Anthem bilked millions of dollars from taxpayers.

Background: DOJ has been probing the "risk adjustment" practices of all the major Medicare Advantage insurers for years, but hadn't pulled the trigger on a lawsuit against a major player.

  • Risk adjustment is the process by which Medicare Advantage companies assign scores to their members based on the health conditions they have. Patients who have higher risk scores lead to higher payments from the federal government to the companies that insure them.
  • Insurers are required to review patients' medical charts to verify the health conditions, and if insurers find any inaccurate diagnoses, they have to be deleted — which also would require the companies to pay back money to the federal government.

The Department of Justice is alleging that Anthem reviewed medical records, but only focused on finding "all possible new revenue-generating codes" while purposefully ignoring all erroneous diagnoses.

  • For example, according to the DOJ's lawsuit, Anthem coded one member in 2015 as having active lung cancer.
  • "Anthem’s chart review program did not substantiate the active lung cancer diagnosis," the DOJ alleges. Instead of deleting that diagnosis, Anthem allegedly added another three codes — leading to a $7,000 overpayment just for that member that year.

The other side: Anthem said in a statement that it intends "to vigorously defend our Medicare risk adjustment practices" and that "the government is trying to hold Anthem and other Medicare Advantage plans to payment standards that CMS does not apply to original Medicare."

The big picture: Medicare Advantage continues to enroll seniors and people with disabilities at high rates, even as more allegations of fraud come out against the insurers that run the program.

Read the lawsuit.

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