Harmony Care Hospice Inc. (Harmony) and Harmony owner and chief executive officer Daniel J. Burton have agreed to pay the United States $1,286,999.32 to settle allegations that the South Carolina-based company submitted false claims to Medicare for patients under care at its hospice facilities, the Justice Department announced today.
Hospices provide palliative care – medical treatment that concentrates on reducing the severity of a disease’s symptoms – to patients who decide to forego curative care of their illness. Medicare beneficiaries are entitled to hospice care if they have a terminal prognosis of six months or less. The United States alleged that Harmony and Burton knowingly submitted or caused to be submitted false claims for patients who did not have such a prognosis and thus were not eligible for hospice care. Under today’s agreement, Burton is individually liable for $200,000 of the settlement amount.
“Billing Medicare for unnecessary or inappropriate end-of-life care contributes to the soaring costs of health care for everyone. Today’s settlement demonstrates the Department of Justice’s efforts both to protect public funds and safeguard Medicare beneficiaries,” said Stuart F. Delery, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Division.
Today’s settlement with Harmony and Burton resolves a lawsuit filed by former Harmony employees Mona Singletary and Lynda Fulton under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act. Under the False Claims Act, private citizens can bring suit for false claims on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery. Together, Singletary and Fulton will receive $244,529.87 as their share of the government’s recovery.
As part of the settlement, Harmony and Burton will enter into a Corporate Integrity Agreement with the Office of Inspector General (OIG), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to address the allegations raised in the qui tam complaint.
“As budget pressures increase it is more important than ever to protect Medicare dollars and vigilantly guard against needless health spending,” said Daniel R. Levinson, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “The company and its owner have agreed to Federal monitoring and reporting requirements designed to avoid such problems in the future.”
This resolution is part of the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and another step for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced by Attorney General Eric Holder and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in May 2009. 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 that effort is the False Claims Act, which the Justice Department has used to recover more than $10.1 billion since January 2009 in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs. The Justice Department’s total recoveries in False Claims Act cases since January 2009 are over $13.9 billion.
The investigation was jointly handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina, the Justice Department’s Civil Division and the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services. The claims resolved by this settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.
The qui tam case is captioned United States ex rel. Singletary, et al. v. Harmony Care Hospice, Inc., et al., Case No. 2:10-cv-01404-PMD (D.S.C.).