Hospice of Arizona L.C., along with a related entity, American Hospice Management LLC, and their parent corporation, American Hospice Management Holdings LLC, have agreed to pay $12 million to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by submitting or causing the submission of false claims to the Medicare program for ineligible hospice services, the Justice Department announced today.
The Medicare hospice benefit is available for patients who have a life expectancy of six months or less if their disease runs its normal course. Patients admitted to a hospice stop receiving care to cure their illnesses and instead receive medical care focused on providing them with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a terminal illness. Today’s settlement resolves allegations that Hospice of Arizona, and its related entities, submitted or caused the submission of false Medicare claims between Sept. 1, 2002, and Dec. 31, 2010, for Hospice of Arizona patients who did not need end of life care or for whom the hospice billed at a higher reimbursement rate than it was entitled.
The government alleged that Hospice of Arizona and its related entities, engaged in certain practices that resulted in the admission of ineligible patients or inflated bills, including pressuring staff to find more patients eligible for Medicare, adopting procedures that delayed and discouraged staff from discharging patients from hospice when they were no longer appropriate for such services, and not implementing an adequate compliance program that might have addressed these problems. As part of the settlement, American Hospice Management Holdings has agreed to enter into a corporate integrity agreement with the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services that provides for procedures and reviews to be put in place to avoid and promptly detect conduct similar to that which gave rise to the settlement.
“This settlement is the result of the Justice Department’s efforts to prevent the misuse of the taxpayer-funded Medicare hospice program, which is intended to provide comfort and care to terminally ill persons at the end of their lives,” said Stuart F. Delery, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.
“The hospice industry relies on the Medicare Trust Fund, and payments for unnecessary services jeopardize its financial viability,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein.
“Medicare and taxpayers depend on hospice agencies to provide medically appropriate services to terminally ill patients,” said Glenn R. Ferry, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s region including Arizona. “When providers place more importance on the bottom line than on the care of these vulnerable patients, they can expect to face serious penalties.”
This resolution is part of the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and another step for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced by Attorney General Eric Holder and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in May 2009. The partnership between the two departments has focused efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud through enhanced cooperation. One of the most powerful tools in that effort is the False Claims Act, which the Justice Department has used to recover $10.2 billion since January 2009 in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs. The Justice Department’s total recoveries in False Claims Act cases since January 2009 are over $14 billion.
The allegations settled today arose from a lawsuit filed by a former Hospice of Arizona, L.C. employee, Ellen Momeyer, under the qui tam, or whistleblower provisions, of the False Claims Act. Under the False Claims Act, private citizens can bring suit on behalf of the United States for false claims and share in any recovery. The whistleblower in this case will receive $1.8 million. The case is United States ex rel. Momeyer v. Hospice of Arizona, L.C., et al., No. 1:10-cv-280 (D. Md.).
This matter was handled by the Justice Department’s Civil Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, and the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services.
The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.
[NOTE: Stone Law Firm represents Relator Ellen Momeyer]