American Family Care Inc. has agreed to pay the government $1.2 million to resolve allegations under the False Claims Act that it knowingly submitted claims to Medicare for outpatient office visits that were billed at a higher rate than was appropriate, the Justice Department announced today. American Family Care is a network of walk-in medical clinics headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., with offices in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia.
“Mischarging the government for office visits wastes valuable government resources that could be used to care for other patient needs,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division Stuart F. Delery. “At a time of increasing concern about the cost of medical care, it is especially important to ensure that health care providers are not overbilling the government by improperly inflating their claims.”
Following guidance adopted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, health clinics such as American Family Care bill Medicare for their services by selecting a corresponding Evaluation and Management code. The codes are divided into five different levels - from basic (level 1) to most complex (level 5). Higher level codes result in higher reimbursement from Medicare than lower level codes. The government alleged that American Family Care knowingly selected Evaluation and Management codes for a level of services that exceeded those actually provided in order to artificially increase the amount of reimbursement it received for those visits.
“The False Claims Act is a critical tool for weeding out fraud and protecting the taxpayers,” said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Joyce White Vance. “My office will continue to return funds, like the $1.2 million in this case, to the taxpayers by proceeding against those who abuse our public health programs."
“Billing the government for services not provided as claimed cheats both taxpayers and patients,” said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services region including Alabama. “We will pursue aggressively providers like American Family Care alleged to have improperly maximized reimbursements.”
The civil settlement resolves a lawsuit filed by Anita C. Salters, a former employee of American Family Care, under the whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act, which permits private parties to file suit on behalf of the government for false claims and to obtain a portion of the government’s recovery. Salters’ share has not yet been determined.
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 on 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.
This settlement with American Family Care was the result of a coordinated effort among the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama; the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, Commercial Litigation Branch; the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The lawsuit is captioned United States ex rel. Anita C. Salters v. American Family Care Inc. (N.D. Ala.). The claims resolved by this settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.