North American Health Care Inc. to Pay $28.5 Million to Settle Claims for Medically Unnecessary Rehabilitation Therapy Services
Chairman of the Board and Senior Vice President of Reimbursement Analysis to Pay an Additional $1.5 Million
North American Health Care Inc. (NAHC), its chairman of the board, John Sorenson, and its senior vice president of Reimbursement Analysis, Margaret Gelvezon, have agreed to pay a total of $30 million to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by causing the submission of false claims to government health care programs for medically unnecessary rehabilitation therapy services provided to residents at NAHC’s skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), the Department of Justice announced today. Under the settlement agreement, NAHC has agreed to pay $28.5 million. Mr. Sorensen has agreed to pay $1 million and Ms. Gelvezon has agreed to pay $500,000.
“Medicare patients and those insured by TRICARE are entitled to receive care necessary for their clinical needs and not the financial needs of their health providers,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Health care providers will be held accountable if they bill for unnecessary services or treatment.”
NAHC is a private, for-profit company headquartered in Orange County, California, that has service agreements to operate 35 SNFs, most of them in California. The SNFs provide inpatient rehabilitation services, including physical, occupational, and speech therapy, to patients. The United States contends that NAHC caused false claims to be submitted to Medicare and TRICARE, seeking payment for medically unnecessary rehabilitation therapy services provided to residents at the NAHC facilities.
The United States further contends that Gelvezon, in her capacity as an officer of NAHC, contributed to this conduct by creating the improper billing scheme. The government also contends that Sorensen, in his capacity as chairman of the board of NAHC, reinforced this scheme at the NAHC facilities. The United States contends that this conduct occurred during the period from Jan. 21, 2005, to Oct. 31, 2009, for all of the NAHC SNFs and continued during the period of Nov. 1, 2009, to Dec. 3, 2011, for three of the SNFs in the Northern District of California area.
“This office is committed to safeguarding the federal health care programs and the patients who are enrolled in them,” said U.S. Attorney Brian J. Stretch for the Northern District of California. “Skilled nursing facilities such as NAHC treat some of the most vulnerable patients in the health care system. These facilities, and the individuals who run them, will be held accountable when they provide treatment based on financial motivations instead of the patients’ needs.”
“Providing medically unnecessary services to this fragile population can be taxing both for the patient and the program,” said Department of Health and Human Services-Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG) Special Agent in Charge Steven Ryan. “Today’s settlement should send a message to others who may be engaging in these schemes that we will pursue justice for our beneficiaries and the programs.”
As part of this settlement, NAHC has also entered into a five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) with the HHS-OIG. The CIA applies to all facilities managed by NAHC and requires an independent review organization to annually review therapy services billed to Medicare.
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 the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. 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 $30.6 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $18.5 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.
This matter was handled by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, HHS-OIG and the FBI.
The claims resolved by the settlements are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.