United States Joins False Claims Act Lawsuit Against Wheeling Hospital, R & V Associates, and Ronald Violi Based on Improper Payments and Kickbacks to Physicians
The United States has partially intervened in a lawsuit under the False Claims Act against Wheeling Hospital Inc. (Wheeling), R & V Associates Ltd. (R & V), and Ronald Violi in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, the Department of Justice announced today. The government intervened with respect to allegations that Wheeling, which is located in Wheeling, WV, violated the Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute, and that those violations were caused by R & V, Wheeling’s contracted management consultant, and Violi, Wheeling’s CEO.
The Stark Law prohibits a hospital from billing Medicare for services referred by physicians that have an improper financial relationship with the hospital. The Anti‑Kickback Statute, in relevant part, prohibits offering or paying anything of value to encourage the referral of items or services covered by federal healthcare programs. The United States alleges that Wheeling’s compensation to a number of employed and contracted physicians violated these statutory prohibitions because that compensation was based on the volume or value of the physicians’ referrals or was above fair market value.
“Improper financial arrangements between hospitals and physicians threaten patient safety because they can influence the type and amount of health care that is provided,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “The department is committed to taking action to eliminate improper inducements that can corrupt the integrity of physician decision-making.”
“By bringing allegations of fraud to light, whistleblowers play an important role in protecting the integrity of our healthcare system.” said Scott W. Brady, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
The lawsuit was initially filed in December 2017 by Louis Longo, who was previously employed as Wheeling’s Executive Vice President, under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act. Those provisions authorize private parties to sue on behalf of the United States for false claims and share in any recovery. The Act permits the United States to intervene and take over the lawsuit, as it has done here in part. Those who violate the Act are subject to treble damages and applicable penalties.
The government’s intervention in this matter illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating healthcare fraud. One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act. Tips and complaints from all sources about potential fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, can be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services, at 800‑HHS‑TIPS (800-447-8477).
This matter was investigated by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorneys’ Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.
The case is captioned United States of America ex rel. Louis Longo v. Wheeling Hospital, Inc. et al., No. 17-cv-1654 (W.D. Pa.). The claims asserted against defendants are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.