Widespread fraud and abuse in the health care sector have led to efforts at both the national and state levels to provide more robust protections for whistleblowers who report fraudulent practices against retaliation by their employers. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which has a near-universal health care system predicated upon partnerships between public programs and the private insurance industry, the legislature has approved a law which provides explicit, vigorous protections to whistleblowers in the health care sector. The law buttresses the protections afforded to whistleblowers by Massachusetts’s version of the False Claims Act¬†(“FCA”), a federal statute.

The enactment, M.G.L. Chapter 149, Section 187, imposes liability on health care facilities that refuse to hire, terminate, or otherwise take an adverse employment action against a health care provider who “discloses or threatens to disclose” a practice that the provider reasonably believes is in violation of the law or standards of professional responsibility causing a danger to the public health. And, in a similar fashion to the Massachusetts False Claims Act, the statute allows the Attorney General to intervene on behalf of the Commonwealth against alleged violators of the law, with penalties of up to $10,000 per violation as well as reasonable attorney and expert witness fees. Ostensibly, the statutory protections would extend to whistleblowers who file qui tam¬†complaints under the Massachusetts FCA.

The False Claims Act is a federal law that confers standing upon private whistleblowers, also known as qui tam relators, to sue parties believed to have perpetrated fraud in connection with compensation for goods or services provided or avoidance of a liability to the government. Successful relators may recover 15% to 30% of a final judgment or settlement. The federal law provides protections against retaliation. Any employee, contractor, or agent who faces retaliation as a result of lawful efforts to stop a violation of the FCA is covered by the anti-retaliation provisions.

 

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