The Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) recently announced that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has temporarily halted enforcement actions and the collection of civil penalties. The original period ran through May 31, but DOJ said it may extend the period.

This includes the collection of civil penalties incurred in suits under the False Claims Act (FCA), notes David J. Pivnick, JD, partner with McGuireWoods in Chicago.

The EOUSA notices explained that U.S. attorney’s offices will temporarily suspend enforcement activity on civil debt levied against healthcare providers for FCA violations, which can include billing for services not rendered or services not medically necessary.

U.S. attorneys were instructed not to pursue new enforcement actions, Pivnick explains. Healthcare organizations not making payments on civil penalties would not be considered in default. Interest may still accrue on civil debt, he says.

“There has been a little more flexibility from DOJ because of the COVID-19 pandemic to work with healthcare organizations on the timing of payments and settlements, in recognition of the fact that a lot of these hospitals and health systems are under tremendous strain right now financially, in addition to the rest of the challenges they’re facing,” Pivnick says. “We would not advise anyone to ignore their payment obligations because the obligation is not going to go away. It’s a good opportunity to have some frank discussions with your contacts at the DOJ to see what arrangements might be worked out for extended payments.”