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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Audiology Practice with Locations Throughout Central New York to Pay More Than $566,000 to Settle False Claims Act Claims

Oviatt Hearing and Balance Admits that it had Unlicensed Individuals Treat, and Provided Improper Inducements to, Medicare and TRICARE Beneficiaries

ALBANY, NEW YORK – Oviatt Hearing and Balance, LLC (Oviatt), which operates audiology practices in Syracuse, Camillus, Manlius, and Oswego, New York, has agreed to pay $566,263.08 to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by falsely billing the federal government for services rendered by unlicensed individuals and by inappropriately providing gift cards and other inducements to Medicare and TRICARE beneficiaries.  The announcement was made by United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith and Scott J. Lampert, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General’s New York Region (HHS-OIG).

United States Attorney Jaquith said: “Oviatt Hearing and Balance provided improper inducements to attract patients, allowed audiology testing by unlicensed and unsupervised employees, and then falsely billed Medicare and TRICARE as if the exams had been done by professionally licensed audiologists.  We are committed to protecting patients and holding providers accountable for dishonest practices that undermine the integrity of our health care system and thankful for the thorough investigation by HHS-OIG in this case.”

Today’s settlement resolves allegations that Oviatt violated the False Claims Act in two respects.  First, Oviatt allowed unlicensed individuals, while working alone with no licensed audiologist or other qualified provider onsite, to perform audiology examinations on federal health care program beneficiaries.  Oviatt then submitted claims for payment for those examinations to Medicare and TRICARE, which falsely identified licensed audiologists as the rendering providers.  Second, Oviatt offered and provided kickbacks in the form of improper inducements to federal health care program beneficiaries so that they would come to Oviatt where services billable to the federal government were available.  The inducements included entering beneficiaries into a contest for a free iPad, and offering beneficiaries free Butterball turkeys, $15 Visa gift cards, $15 Dunkin Donuts gift cards, and $30 Omaha Steaks gift cards.

As part of the settlement, Oviatt admitted that:  “(i) on various occasions from July 2011 through January 2018, Oviatt offered and provided improper inducements in the form of gift cards, gift checks, iPads, and similar promotions to Federal health care program beneficiaries, and (ii) on various days from January 2016 through November 2016, Oviatt allowed two unlicensed individuals, who were alone in the office and unsupervised, to perform audiology tests on Federal health care program beneficiaries and then Oviatt billed those services to Medicare and TRICARE as though they had been rendered by a licensed provider.”

“Oviatt Hearing and Balance compromised the integrity of the Medicare program, and failed to ensure that quality health care services were provided to their patients,” said Scott J. Lampert, Special Agent in Charge of HHS-OIG.  “HHS-OIG is committed to holding providers accountable for their practices.”

This investigation was triggered by a whistleblower lawsuit filed under the qui tam provision of the False Claims Act, which allows private persons, known as “relators,” to file civil actions on behalf of the government and share in any recovery.  The relator in this case will receive $120,000 of the settlement proceeds.  The case is docketed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York under number 5:16-cv-1217.

The investigation and settlement were the result of a coordinated effort among the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York and HHS-OIG.  The United States was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam J. Katz.

Topic(s): 
False Claims Act
Updated December 12, 2018