WASHINGTON – The United States has intervened and filed a complaint in a whistleblower suit against AseraCare Hospice, the Justice Department announced today. Golden Gate Ancillary LLC, dba AseraCare Hospice, is a for-profit business with approximately 65 hospice providers in 19 states, including Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In its complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, the government alleges that AseraCare violated the False Claims Act when it misspent millions of taxpayer dollars intended for Medicare recipients who have a prognosis of six months or less to live and need hospice care.
While elderly patients may qualify for a variety of other medical services paid by Medicare, for-profit hospice companies like AseraCare are entitled to receive Medicare dollars only for Medicare recipients who are terminally ill. When a business admits a Medicare recipient to hospice care, that individual is no longer entitled to receive services that would help to cure his or her illness. Instead, the individual receives what is called palliative care, or care that is aimed at relieving pain, symptoms or stress of terminal illness, which includes a comprehensive set of medical, social, psychological, emotional and spiritual services. In this lawsuit, the government contends that AseraCare Hospice knowingly submitted false claims to Medicare for hospice care for patients who were not terminally ill.
“Medicare benefits, including the hospice benefits, are intended only for those individuals who are appropriately qualified,” said Joyce White Vance, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. “We must protect the public welfare and tax-funded benefits programs.”
The whistleblower suit was originally filed by Dawn Richardson and Marsha Brown, former employees of AseraCare Hospice, and named United States ex rel. Richardson and Brown v. Golden Gate National Senior Care LLC dba Golden Living et al., No. 2:09-cv-00627 (N.D. Ala.). The False Claims Act allows private citizens with knowledge of fraud to file whistleblower suits on behalf of the United States and to share in any recovery. If the United States intervenes in an action and proves that a defendant has knowingly submitted false claims, it is entitled to recover three times the damage that resulted and a penalty of $5,500 to $11,000 per claim.
“Congress intended that the hospice care benefit be used during the last several months of an individual’s life,” said Daniel R. Levinson, Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services. “We will continue to recover misspent Medicare funds from companies that abuse the hospice benefit."
This matter was investigated by the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General.