Hospital Chain HCA Inc. Pays $16.5 Million to Settle False Claims Act Allegations That Hospital

HCA Inc., one of the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chains, has agreed to pay the United States and the state of Tennessee $16.5 million to settle claims that it violated the False Claims Act and the Stark Statute, the Department of Justice announced September 19, 2012.   The settlement agreement and the litigation it resolves are a reminder to hospitals, physicians and other health care providers of the growing readiness of the Justice Department and other federal and state regulators and enforcement agencies to prosecute health care providers for STARK, anti-kickback back or other violations of federal or state health health care fraud laws.

HCA Settlement & Underlying Charges

As alleged in the settlement agreement, during 2007, HCA, through its subsidiaries Parkridge Medical Center, located in Chattanooga, Tenn., and HCA Physician Services (HCAPS), headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., entered into a series of financial transactions with a physician group, Diagnostic Associates of Chattanooga, through which it provided financial benefits intended to induce the physician members of Diagnostic to refer patients to HCA facilities.   These financial transactions included rental payments for office space leased from Diagnostic at a rate well in excess of fair market value in order to assist Diagnostic members to meet their mortgage obligations and a release of Diagnostic members from a separate lease obligation.  

The Stark Statute restricts financial relationships that hospitals may enter into with physicians who potentially may refer patients to them.   Federal law prohibits the payment of medical claims that result from such prohibited relationships.

The civil settlement resolves a lawsuit, United States ex rel. Bingham v. HCA, No. 1:08-CV-71 (E.D. Tenn.), pending in federal court in the Eastern District of Tennessee under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which allow private citizens to bring civil actions on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery.   As part of the civil settlement, HCA has agreed to pay $16.5 million to the United States and the state of Tennessee, with the federal portion representing $15,693,000 of the settlement amount.   The whistleblower will receive an 18.5 percent share.  

Also as part of the settlement, Parkridge Medical Center has entered into a comprehensive five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement with the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ensure its continued compliance with federal health care benefit program requirements.

Settlement Part of Expanding Health Care Fraud Prosecution Efforts

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 more than $9.4 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 $13.1 billion.

In announcing the resolution agreement, federal officials emphasized their readiness to prosecute STARK, anti-kickback and other health care fraud statutes. 

“The Department of Justice continues to pursue cases involving improper financial relationships between health care providers and their referral sources, because such relationships can corrupt a physician’s judgment about the patient’s true healthcare needs,” said Stuart F. Delery, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.   

 “Physicians should make decisions regarding referrals to health care facilities based on what is in the best interest of patients without being induced by payments from hospitals competing for their business,” said Bill Killian, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee.  

“ Improper business deals between hospitals and physicians jeopardize both patient care and federal program dollars,” said Daniel R. Levinson, Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services.   “Our investigators continue to work shoulder to shoulder with other law enforcement authorities to stop schemes that imperil scarce health care resources.”

Coupled with the ever-lengthening list of civil settlements like the HCA settlement, and civil monetary penalties, program disqualifications, and criminal prosecutions, these announcements send a strong message to health care providers to review their transactions, referral and other relationships, and billing practices and address potential exposures.

For Help With Compliance, Investigations Or Other Needs

If you need help providing compliance or other training, reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns/ She also regularly designs and presents risk management, compliance and other training for health care providers, professional associations and others.   Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. Contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press

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THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved

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