The Department of Justice announced today that CRC Health Corp. (CRC) has agreed to pay $9.25 million to the federal government and the State of Tennessee to settle allegations that CRC knowingly submitted false claims by providing substandard treatment to adult and adolescent Medicaid patients suffering from alcohol and drug addiction at its facility in Burns, Tenn. CRC, based in Cupertino, Calif., is a nationwide provider of substance abuse and mental health treatment services.
“Medicaid patients who enter residential treatment programs for alcohol and drug addiction deserve to have treatment provided by qualified personnel according to the appropriate standard of care,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division Stuart F. Delery. “We will not tolerate health care providers who prioritize profit margins over the needs of their patients.”
CRC owns and operates a residential substance abuse treatment facility in Burns, Tenn., called New Life Lodge. The government alleged that, between 2006 and 2012, New Life Lodge billed the Tennessee Medicaid program (TennCare) for substance abuse therapy services that were not provided or were provided by therapists who were not properly licensed by the state of Tennessee. The government also alleged that New Life Lodge failed to make a licensed psychiatrist available to patients at the facility, as required by the state’s regulations; failed to maintain patient-staffing ratios required by Tennessee Department of Mental Health regulations and billed for Medicaid patients in excess of the state-licensed bed capacity at the facility. In addition, the government alleged that New Life Lodge double-billed Medicaid for prescription substance abuse medications given to residents at the facility. New Life Lodge currently is not treating Medicaid patients at its facility.
“Substance abuse of varying levels is rampant here and across the country,” said U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee David Rivera. “Fortunately, when needed, Medicaid or TennCare covers substance abuse treatment and certain mental health assistance. When those services are required, the government will ensure that the treatment is provided with the highest possible quality of care to those patients. Anything less is unacceptable.”
“Safeguarding TennCare’s mental and behavioral health support system is a particular focus of this office,” said Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper.
The allegations covered by the settlement were raised in a lawsuit filed by Angie Cederoth, who was previously employed in New Life Lodge’s billing department, under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to sue on behalf of the government for the submission of false claims and to receive a share of any recovery. Cederoth will receive $1.5 million as her share of the settlement proceeds.
This settlement illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and marks another achievement for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced in May 2009 by Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. 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 this effort is the False Claims Act. Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered a total of more than $19 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $13.4 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.
“Providers of health care services must not place profits above patients,” said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General in Atlanta. “This was a vulnerable population of individuals who were seeking treatment for their substance abuse problems. We will pursue these cases in order to ensure proper treatment is afforded to those seeking treatment.”
The investigation of this matter reflects a coordinated effort among the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.
“The FBI is committed to investigating allegations of wrongdoing and false claims related to federally funded health care programs,” said A. Todd McCall, Special Agent in Charge of the Memphis Division of the FBI. “The resolution of this matter is the result of the hard work by the individual investigators and the coordinated effort of all the agencies involved.”
“This resolution is indicative of a great collaborative effort to combat egregious and fraudulent activity against health care, which ultimately impacts everyone in Tennessee,” said Director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Mark Gwyn.
The lawsuit is captioned U.S. ex rel. Cederoth v. CRC Health Corporation Inc. , CV-3-11-00897 (M.D. Tenn.). The claims asserted against the defendants are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.