United States Intervenes in False Claims Act Lawsuit Against Prime Healthcare Services Inc. and its CEO Alleging Unnecessary Inpatient Admissions from Emergency Rooms
The United States has intervened in a lawsuit against Prime Healthcare Services Inc. (Prime); the company’s founder and chief executive officer, Dr. Prem Reddy; and 14 Prime hospitals in California that alleges Emergency Departments at Prime facilities improperly admitted patients to the hospitals and submitted false claims to Medicare, the Justice Department announced today.
The lawsuit alleges that Dr. Reddy directed the corporate practice of pressuring Prime’s Emergency Department physicians and hospital administrators to raise inpatient admission rates, regardless of whether it was medically necessary to admit the patients. The lawsuit alleges that Prime’s corporate officers, at Reddy’s direction, exerted immense pressure on doctors in the Emergency Departments to admit patients who could have been placed in observation, treated as outpatients or discharged. As a result of these medically unnecessary admissions from the Emergency Departments, Prime hospitals allegedly submitted false claims to federal health care programs, such as Medicare.
“The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that health care providers do not inappropriately seek to profit at the expense of federal health care programs,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Schemes such as this one can contribute significantly to the rising cost of health care delivery and create needless patient risk.”
“Fraudulent billing practices, such as those alleged in this civil lawsuit, harm taxpayers who fund health care programs, such as Medicare,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker for the Central District of California. “The Justice Department works collaboratively with law enforcement agencies, regulators and, in some cases, private citizens to ensure the integrity of a system that provides healthcare to millions of Americans.”
“Charging for medically unnecessary services, as alleged in this case, raises costs in government health programs and remorselessly passes that bill along to taxpayers,” said Special Agent in Charge Christian J. Schrank of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “Our investigation into the allegations in this case, along with our law enforcement partners, led to the government’s decision to intervene.”
The lawsuit, United States ex rel. Berntsen v. Prime Healthcare Services, et al., CV11-8214-PJW (MG), was filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by relator Karin Bernsten, who worked at one of the Prime hospitals where the allegedly improper inpatient admissions allegedly took place. The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to sue on behalf of the United States when they believe that a party has submitted false claims for government funds, and to receive a share of any recovery. The False Claims Act permits the government to intervene in such a lawsuit, as it has done in a portion of this case.
The government’s intervention in this matter illustrates its 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 $29 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $17.5 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.
These matters were investigated by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, HHS-OIG and the FBI.
The claims asserted against Prime and Dr. Reddy are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.