Montana Hospitals Agree to Pay $3.95 Million to Resolve Alleged False Claims Act and Stark Law Violations
Hospitals Allegedly Compensated Physicians for Improper Referrals
St. Vincent Healthcare, a hospital located in Billings, Mont., and Holy Rosary Healthcare, a hospital located in Miles City, Mont., have agreed to pay $3.95 million plus interest to resolve allegations that they violated the Stark Law and the False Claims Act by improperly providing incentive pay to physicians that made referrals to the hospitals, the Justice Department announced today.
The Stark Law forbids a hospital from billing Medicare for certain services referred by physicians who have a financial relationship with the hospital unless that relationship falls within certain exceptions. A prohibited financial relationship includes a hospital’s agreement to compensate a physician in a manner that takes into account the volume of the physician’s referrals or the revenue realized through those referrals.
The settlement announced today resolves allegations that the hospitals paid several physicians incentive compensation that took into account the value or volume of their referrals by improperly including certain designated health services in the formula for calculating physician incentive compensation. These issues were disclosed by the hospitals to the government.
“The resolution of this matter underscores our commitment to ensure that services reimbursable by federal health care programs are based on the best interests of patients rather than the personal financial interests of referring physicians,” said Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Department’s Civil Division.
“Combating health care fraud is a top priority of the Department of Justice and the Montana U.S. Attorney’s Office. St. Vincent Healthcare and Holy Rosary Healthcare allegedly put their financial interest ahead of their responsibility to provide cost effective health care. The United States recovered $3,950,000 of taxpayers’ dollars from the hospitals. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to enforcing the Stark Law and False Claims Act, as well as other health care laws and regulations against wrongdoers. This case also demonstrates how the Department of Justice will work with those health care providers who disclose their misconduct,” said Michael W. Cotter, U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana.
“There is an expectation that corporations providing services to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries adhere to the provision of the Stark Law. I applaud St. Vincent Healthcare and Holy Rosary Healthcare for recognizing their potential liability in this matter and making a disclosure,” said Gerry Roy, Special Agent in Charge for the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services region including Montana. “Working closely with our partners at the Department of Justice, we will vigilantly protect federal health care programs against violations of the Stark Law.”
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 on 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 $10.3 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 $14.2 billion.
This case was handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana, the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the FBI. The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.