Dignity Health pays $37 million to settle whistleblower case for fraudulent patient admissions

Dignity Health will pay the United States $37 million to settle a whistleblower case asserting that 13 of its hospitals in California, Nevada and Arizona knowingly submitted false claims to Medicare and TRICARE by admitting patients who could have been treated on a less costly, outpatient basis, the Justice Department announced today.  Dignity, formerly known as Catholic Healthcare West, is based in San Francisco and is one of the five largest hospital systems in the nation with 39 hospitals in three states.

The case alleged that 13 Dignity Health hospitals knowingly overcharged Medicare and TRICARE, part of the military health care program, for inpatient services for patients who should have been treated on a less costly, outpatient basis.  Because hospitals generally receive significantly higher payments from federal health care programs for inpatient admissions as opposed to outpatient treatment, the admission of numerous patients who do not need inpatient care, as alleged here, can result in substantial financial harm to federal health care programs.

The Government said that from 2006 through 2010, 13 Dignity hospitals billed Medicare and TRICARE for inpatient care for certain patients who underwent elective cardiovascular procedures (e.g., stents, pacemakers) in scheduled surgeries when the claims should have been billed as outpatient surgeries.  In addition, the government alleged that from 2000 through 2008, four of the hospitals billed Medicare for beneficiaries undergoing elective kyphoplasty procedures, which are minimally-invasive and performed to treat certain spinal compression fractures that should have been billed as less costly outpatient procedures.  Lastly, the government alleged that from 2006 through 2010, 13 hospitals admitted patients for certain common medical diagnoses where admission as an inpatient was medically unnecessary and appropriate care could have been provided in a less costly outpatient or observation setting.

This settlement resolves a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by Kathleen Hawkins, a former employee of Dignity, under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private citizens to bring lawsuits on behalf of the United States and obtain a portion of the government’s recovery.  Hawkins will receive approximately $6.25 million.

Jeffrey Newman represents whistleblowers. He did not represent Mr. Hawkins in this case.