South Jersey Doctor Admits Making Half A Million Dollars In Fraud Scheme Involving Home Health Care For Elderly Patients
TRENTON, N.J. – A physician who was the owner and founder of Visiting Physicians of South Jersey – a Hammonton, N.J., provider of home-based physician services for seniors –pleaded guilty today for charging lengthy visits to elderly patients that they did not receive, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Lori Reaves, 52, of Waterford Works, N.J., entered her guilty plea, to an Information charging her with one count of health care fraud, before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson in Trenton federal court. During her guilty plea, Reaves admitted lying in Medicare billings about the amount of face-to-face time she spent with patients, which led to her receiving at least $511,068 in criminal profits. Reaves was the highest billing home care provider among the more than 24,000 doctors in New Jersey from Jan. 1, 2008 through Oct. 14, 2011, according to court documents.
“Today, Lori Reaves, a South Jersey physician, admitted intentionally overbilling Medicare and pocketing more than half a million dollars she didn’t earn,” U.S. Attorney Fishman said. “The Medicare system depends on doctors and other medical professionals truthfully billing for services they actually provide. Here, Dr. Reaves chose to lie about the major service she was providing to her homebound, elderly patients: her time.”
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Visiting Physicians of South Jersey (“VPA”) provided home-based physician health care for elderly and homebound patients in New Jersey, offering services throughout South Jersey. As part of her responsibilities at VPA, Reaves was responsible for VPA’s Medicare billings as a Medicare-approved provider.
The claim submitted by the health care provider requires a physician to state a diagnosis and provide a procedure code – called a Current Procedural Technology (CPT) code – identifying services rendered. Medicare regulations require that each provider certify that the services rendered were medically necessary and were furnished by that provider. A warning at the bottom of the form specifically states that any false claims or statements in relation to the submission of a claim for reimbursement are prosecutable under federal or state law.
In most instances during the relevant time period, Reaves submitted forms that falsely claimed she had provided prolonged service visits to her patients in order to induce Medicare to make payments to her that were significantly higher than the payments she should have received.
Reaves routinely billed Medicare using codes that would have required her – under Medicare regulations and depending on the corresponding service – to spend between 60 and 150 minutes with a patient. Many of the claims Reaves submitted would have required her to spend a minimum of 2.5 hours of face-to-face time with her elderly clients, when she actually spent far less. As a result, Medicare reimbursed Reaves more than $511,068 for the fraudulent prolonged service visits Reaves claimed to have made.
Reaves faces a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of the greatest of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss caused by her offense. She will also be required to forfeit the proceeds of her crime. Sentencing is currently scheduled for July 13, 2013.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI in Newark, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge David Velazquez, and special agents of the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Tom F. O’Donnell of the New York Regional Office, with the investigation leading to the guilty plea.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Deborah J. Gannett and R. David Walk Jr. of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Health Care and Government Fraud Unit in Newark.
Defense counsel: Rocco Cipparone Jr. Esq., Haddon Heights, N.J.