Primary Care Physicians to Pay $1.5 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Liability for Submitting Unsupported Diagnoses to the Medicare Advantage Program
PHILADELPHIA – Acting United States Attorney Louis D. Lappen announced today that Matthew Kolodesh, Alex Pugman, Svetlana Ganetsky, and Malvina Yakobashvili have agreed to pay millions of dollars to settle False Claims Act allegations that they and their now-defunct company, Home Care Hospice, Inc. (HCH), falsely claimed and received taxpayer dollars for hospice services that were either unnecessary or never provided. Previously, a federal jury found Kolodesh guilty on, and Pugman and Ganetsky pleaded guilty to, related criminal charges.
Kolodesh was HCH’s de facto co-owner; Pugman was HCH’s Executive Director and co-owner; Ganetsky was HCH’s Development Executive; and Yakobashvili was HCH’s CEO and President. Kolodesh and Yakobashvili are husband and wife, as are Pugman and Ganetsky.
The civil settlements with Kolodesh, Pugman, and Ganetsky specifically resolve False Claims Act allegations that HCH and they, between January 2003 and September 2008: knowingly submitted false claims and records (including fabricated records) to Medicare for purported hospice care for patients who were not terminally ill and thus not eligible for the Medicare hospice benefit; and/or knowingly submitted or caused the submission of false claims and records (including fabricated records) to Medicare for crisis care services that were not necessary or not actually provided; and, as a result of this conduct, violated the False Claims Act and cost the Medicare Program millions of dollars. The settlements with these defendants, as well as Yakobashvili, also resolve federal common law allegations that all five defendants were unjustly enriched as a result of such conduct.
As part of the settlements, the United States will retain the full value of multiple financial accounts that were restrained in a related civil injunction action filed by the United States in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The estimated current value of those interests is approximately $8.8 million. The defendants have further agreed: (1) to make cash payments to the government ($400,000 from Pugman and Ganetsky, and $425,000 from Kolodesh and Yakobashvili); and (2) to transfer to the United States various assets, including Pugman’s and Kolodesh’s interests in condominium properties that they co-own.
Under qui tam (whistleblower) provisions of the federal False Claims Act, certain private citizens may bring civil actions on behalf of the United States and may share in any recovery. This suit was originally filed on behalf of the United States by Maureen Fox and Cathy Gonzales, former HCH employees who discovered the alleged fraud. The settlements announced today include False Claims Act whistleblower awards for Ms. Gonzales and for the Estate of Ms. Fox, who passed away after filing suit.
As the result of the United States’ related criminal investigation, 22 persons employed by or associated with HCH were criminally convicted in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
“The Medicare hospice benefit is intended to provide patients nearing the end of life with pain management and other palliative care to make them as comfortable as possible,” Lappen said. “Too often, however, we hear reports of companies that abuse this critical service by enrolling patients who do not qualify for the hospice benefit, do not provide claimed services, or who push patients into services they don’t need in order to get higher government reimbursements. The Department of Justice, including this office, will take swift action to protect the public welfare and taxpayer dollars and to make sure that Medicare benefits are available to those truly in need.”
"Medicare, a crucial component of our nation's health care system, draws from a finite pool of funds," said Michael Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division. "The defendants siphoned money earmarked for dying patients' hospice care, and built their bank accounts on taxpayers' backs. The FBI will continue to investigate and hold accountable those defrauding the U.S. government."
"Today's settlement returns over $8 million to our nation's Medicare program. This money was wrongfully paid as a result of fraudulent billings and part of a massive criminal conspiracy that preyed on a program that comforts beneficiaries at the end of their lives," said Nick DiGiulio, Special Agent in Charge of the Inspector General's Office of the United Stated Department of Health and Human Services in Philadelphia. "In addition to this civil settlement, this investigation resulted in the criminal prosecution of 22 individuals for health care fraud or other charges. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and the dedicated federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to use every available tool to jail those who steal from federal health care programs and recoup cash and assets illegally acquired."
The case was investigated by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Organized Crime Section of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The civil case was handled at the U.S. Attorney’s Office by Assistant United States Attorneys Eric D. Gill, Gerald B. Sullivan, and Colin C. Cherico. Assistance was provided by the HHS Office of Counsel to the Inspector General and the Commercial Litigation Branch of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Division.
The civil claims asserted against HCH, Kolodesh, Pugman, Ganetsky, and Yakobashvili are allegations only, and there has been no determination of civil liability. The civil qui tam suit is docketed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania as U.S.A. et al. ex rel. Fox and Gonzales v. Home Care Hospice, Inc, et al., No. 06-cv-4679.
The Eastern District of Pennsylvania is one of 10 federal districts that formed an Elder Justice Task Force as a part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative. (The office announced its task force here in March 2016, and maintains a publicly accessible website here.) The task force seeks to enhance government protection of vulnerable, elderly Pennsylvanians from harm and to ensure the integrity of government health care spending.