United States Files False Claims Act Complaint Against Home Health Agency and Two of Its Owners
The United States has filed a complaint in intervention against Doctor’s Choice Home Care Inc (Doctor’s Choice), Timothy Beach, and Stuart Christensen alleging False Claims Act violations arising from the alleged payment of kickbacks in the form of sham medical director agreements and payments to the spouses of referring physicians, the Department of Justice today announced. Doctor’s Choice is a home health agency based in Sarasota, Florida. Timothy Beach and Stuart Christensen are partial owners of Doctor’s Choice.
“Healthcare providers must make recommendations about their patients’ health without respect to their own financial interests,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “We will continue to do our part to protect federal health care program beneficiaries and the American taxpayers from the corrupting influence of kickbacks designed to undermine the impartiality and integrity of physician decision making.”
“Kickbacks and other improper remuneration that interferes with the medical decision-making process undermines the integrity of our healthcare system,” said U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez. “My Office will continue to aggressively pursue those who violate these laws and compromise our system of care.”
The lawsuit alleges that Doctor’s Choice, with the knowledge of Beach and Christensen, paid kickbacks in the form of sham medical directorships to three physicians to refer patients to Doctor’s Choice. All three physicians allegedly did little, if any, of the work for which Doctor’s Choice paid them as medical directors. Sham medical director agreements to induce patient referrals violate the Anti-Kickback Statute and the Stark Law. Doctor’s Choice also allegedly paid some employees in a manner that accounted for the volume of referrals by their physician spouses, in violation of the Stark Law.
The Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits anyone from offering or paying remuneration in order to induce or reward referrals for services paid for under federal healthcare programs. The Stark Law forbids certain medical providers, including home health agencies, from submitting claims to Medicare for services provided to patients who were referred by a physician with whom the provider has a prohibited financial relationship, unless that relationship falls within an applicable exception.
The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which allow private parties to file suit on behalf of the United States for false claims and receive a share of any recovery. The act permits the United States to intervene and take over responsibility for litigating the case, as it has done here. A defendant who violates the act is subject to three times the government’s losses, plus applicable penalties.
This case is being handled by the Department of Justice’s Civil Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, with assistance from the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The claims made in the complaint are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability. The case is captioned United States ex rel. Herbold v. Doctor’s Choice Home Care Inc., et al., Case No. 8:15-cv-01044 (M.D. Fl.).