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Administrative Law

Brief - Does the federal bribery statute extend to institutions receiving funds from Medicare? - Fischer v. United States, No. 529 U.S. 667 (000)

Defendant was charged under the federal bribery statute based on defendant improperly receiving funds from the Medicare program. Defendant argued that he was improperly charged under the statute because it only applies to persons who receive benefits from federal programs, not persons who receive ". bona fide salary, wages, fees, or other compensation paid, or expenses paid or reimbursed, in the usual course of business." Thus defendant, as a health care provider, was not receiving benefits under the Medicare program, but was only being paid proper compensation for services rendered and was therefore exempt under the bribery statute. The government argues the broad position that receipt of any federal funds is sufficient for jurisdiction under the statute. The trial court rejected defendant's argument and he was convicted of 13 counts under the statute, imprisoned for 65 months, and ordered to pay $1,200,000 in restitution. This appeal followed.

The Circuit court rejected defendant's claim that he only received compensation for services, but also rejected the government's broad assertion that receiving any money through a federal benefits program triggered this statute. Instead, the court looked to the purpose of the benefit program and the extent to which it is more than just a third party insurance program for Medicare beneficiaries: " The payments are made not simply to reimburse for treatment of qualifying patients, but to assist the hospital in making available and maintaining a certain level and quality of medical care, all in the interest of both the hospital and the greater community." This is a critical case in interpreting the federal bribery law. While the court's reasoning establishes that health care providers as well as patients are beneficiaries under the federal government's various health programs, there are other types of federal benefit programs that might be excluded from the reach of the bribery statute under this rationale.

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