Morton Plant Mease Health Care Inc. and its affiliated hospitals (Morton Plant) have agreed to pay $10,169,114 to the federal government to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by submitting false claims for services rendered to Medicare patients, the Justice Department announced today. Morton Plant owns and operates, or is affiliated with, Morton Plant Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Morton Plant North Bay Hospital, St. Anthony’s Hospital, Mease Countryside Hospital and Mease Dunedin Hospital. These hospitals are part of the BayCare Health System in Florida’s Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties.
The settlement announced today resolves allegations that, between July 1, 2006 and July 31, 2008, Morton Plant improperly billed for certain interventional cardiac and vascular procedures as inpatient care when those services should have been billed as less costly outpatient care or as observational status.
“Overbilling the government for routine procedures wastes valuable resources that could be used to care for other patients,” said Stuart F. Delery, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “At a time when we are trying to reduce public spending, it is especially important to ensure that hospitals do not overcharge the government by improperly inflating their billing.”
“We hold medical providers to a high standard in our district, and we will not hesitate to hold them to account when we find evidence of serious misconduct,” said Robert O’Neill, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida. “This settlement should send a strong message that health care fraud enforcement is a growing priority in our office.”
Today’s settlement resolves a qui tam, or whistleblower, lawsuit filed by Randi Ferrare, a former director of Health Management Services at Morton Plant Hospital. Under the False Claims Act, private citizens, known as relators, can bring suit on behalf of the United States and
share in any recovery. Ms. Ferrare will receive over $1.8 million as her share of the government’s recovery.
“When hospitals attempt to boost profits with improper inpatient admissions, they squander scarce dollars from Medicare and Medicaid,” said Daniel R. Levinson, Inspector General of the Department of Health & Human Services. “Our corporate integrity agreements hold providers accountable for preventing such abuse of government health care programs.”
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 $10.1 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 $13.8 billion
The United States’ investigation was conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General.
The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.
The case is docketed as United States ex rel. Randi Ferrare v. Morton Plant Mease Health Care, Inc., No. 08:cv:01689-T-266MSS (M.D. Fl.).