Hospice Care of Kansas LLC and its parent company, Ft. Worth, Texas-based Voyager HospiceCare Inc., have agreed to pay $6.1 million to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by submitting claims to the Medicare program for ineligible hospice services, the Justice Department announced today. Hospice Care of Kansas currently provides hospice services throughout the state of Kansas. Hospice Care of Kansas, which is based in Wichita, Kan., was purchased by Voyager in 2004.
The Medicare hospice benefit is available for patients who elect palliative treatment ( medical care focused on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of a serious illness) for a terminal illness, and have a life expectancy of six months or less if their disease runs its normal course. Today’s settlement resolves allegations that Hospice Care of Kansas and Voyager submitted or caused the submission of false Medicare claims between January 2004 and December 2008 for beneficiaries that did not have a terminal prognosis of six months or less.
The government alleged that Hospice Care of Kansas and Voyager engaged in certain practices that resulted in the submission of false claims, including the provision of compensation to clinical employees based on patient census and admissions, delaying discharges of patients determined not to have a six month or less prognosis, instructions to staff to document patient conditions in a misleading manner, and implementation of an inadequate compliance program.
“The Medicare hospice benefit is intended to provide comfort and care to terminally ill persons in the final stages of their disease,” said Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “This settlement shows that the Department of Justice will not tolerate hospice providers that attempt to maximize their profits at the expense of their legal and ethical obligations to the Medicare program, taxpayers, and beneficiaries.”
“Our goals are to protect taxpayer dollars, ensure the viability of government health care programs and strengthen our national health care system,” said Barry Grissom, U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas. “This case is a step in that direction.”
“We expect providers of Medicare services to operate with the utmost integrity and with the best interests of our beneficiaries in mind. Working with our partners at the Department of Justice, we will hold those accountable who do not operate in this manner,” said Gerald Roy, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General.
The allegations that are the subject of today’s settlement were originally raised in a lawsuit filed by a former Hospice Care of Kansas nurse, Beverly Landis, under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act. The act allows private citizens with knowledge of fraud to bring an action on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery. As a part of today’s resolution, Ms. Landis will receive payments totaling $1.342 million.
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 $7.7 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 $11.3 billion.
The investigation was jointly handled by the Justice Department’s Civil Division, the FBI, the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas. The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.