Colorado Health Care Organization and One of Its Montana Hospitals to Pay $3.85 Million for Allegedly Providing Financial Benefits to Referring Physicians and Physician Groups
St. James Healthcare (St. James), a hospital located in Butte, Mont., and its parent company, Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System (Sisters of Charity), a health care organization based in Denver, Colo., have agreed to pay $3.85 million to resolve allegations that they violated the Anti-Kickback Statute, the Stark Law and the False Claims Act by improperly providing financial benefits to physicians and physician groups that made referrals to the hospital, the Justice Department announced today.
The Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits the provision of remuneration with the intent to induce referrals of government health care program business. The Stark Law restricts financial relationships that hospitals may enter into with physicians who refer patients to them. Federal law prohibits payment by federal health care programs of medical claims that result from arrangements that violate the Anti-Kickback Statute or the Stark Law.
“Improper financial arrangements between hospitals and physicians not only undermine the integrity of the decisions that doctors make, they raise the cost of health care for all of us,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division Stuart F. Delery. “The department has longstanding concerns about such conduct and is committed to working with health care providers that come forward to disclose their misconduct.”
The settlement announced today resolves allegations that St. James and Sisters of Charity provided various improper financial incentives to physicians and physician groups that were involved in a joint venture with St. James to own and operate a medical office building on the St. James campus. These incentives included a payment to the joint venture that increased the share values for the physicians and physician groups in the joint venture and resulted in below fair market value lease rates for the physicians renting space in the medical office building. Additional incentives provided by St. James and Sisters of Charity included below fair market value lease rates for the land upon which the medical office building was constructed and other below fair market value arrangements related to shared facilities, use and maintenance. These issues were disclosed by St. James and Sisters of Charity to the government.
“This matter is of great significance to Montanans because it helps ensure federal health care programs deliver services in a cost-effective and efficient manner,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana Michael W. Cotter. “We are encouraged that hospitals like St. James Healthcare are taking these issues seriously by reviewing their operations and making disclosures to the government where necessary.”
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 Health and Human Services Secretary 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 $17 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $12.2 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.
This case was handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana, the Department of Justice Civil Division, Commercial Litigation Branch and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.