United States Government Settles False Claims Act Allegations Against Florida Vein Clinic and Its Owner
A Florida-based physician, Dr. Ravi Sharma, has agreed to pay $400,000 to resolve allegations that he and his clinics violated the False Claims Act by knowingly billing Medicare for vein injections and physician office visits performed by unqualified personnel, the Justice Department announced today.
“Vein injections and other invasive procedures should be performed by appropriately qualified personnel,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division Stuart F. Delery. “We will not tolerate those who put patients’ health at risk for their personal gain and convenience.”
The government alleged that, between 2009 and 2010, Sharma owned and operated a clinic in the Tampa area called Premier Vein Centers. Beginning in 2009, Sharma allegedly sent text messages to his office manager instructing her to perform varicose vein injections on patients when he was not in the office. The government further alleged that, when Sharma was in the office, he performed unnecessary vein injections and unnecessary ultrasound imaging procedures associated with those vein injections.
Sharma also owned and operated, between 2009 and 2010, a weight loss clinic in the Tampa area called Life’s New Image. Allegedly, unqualified personnel met with patients of the clinic, but Sharma billed those visits as physician office visits using his own Medicare provider number. Sharma closed Premier Vein Centers and Life’s New Image in 2010.
“We are pleased to announce this very favorable resolution of our claims against this provider,” said Acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida A. Lee Bentley III. “Again, it demonstrates our commitment to civil health care fraud enforcement in our district.”
The allegations covered by the settlement were originally raised in a lawsuit filed by Patti Lovell, the former office manager for Sharma, under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to sue on behalf of the government for the submission of false claims and to receive a share of any recovery. Lovell will receive $72,000.
As part of the settlement, Sharma entered into a three-year Integrity Agreement with the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services. The agreement requires Sharma to attend training courses provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and provides for an independent external review of his federal health care program coding and billing procedures.
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 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.
The investigation of this matter reflects a coordinated effort among the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.
The lawsuit is captioned U.S. ex rel. Lovell v. Ravi Sharma, M.D. and Premier Vein Centers, 12-CV-133 (M.D. Fla.). The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.