500 hospitals pay Uncle Sam $250 million to settle fraudulent billing whistleblower case

The Department of Justice has reached 70 settlements involving 457 hospitals in 43 states for more than $250 million related to cardiac devices that were implanted in Medicare patients in violation of Medicare coverage requirements, the Department of Justice announced today. An implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD, is an electronic device that is implanted near and connected to the heart.  It detects and treats chaotic, extremely fast, life-threatening heart rhythms, called fibrillations, by delivering a shock to the heart, restoring the heart’s normal rhythm.  It is similar in function to an external defibrillator (often found in offices and other buildings) except that it is small enough to be implanted in a patient’s chest.  Only patients with certain clinical characteristics and risk factors qualify for an ICD covered by Medicare.

The settlements involved 457 hospitals and included:

  • Ascension Health, based in St. Louis, and 33 of its affiliated hospitals for $14.5 million
  • Catholic Health East, based in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, and its 13 affiliated hospitals for $11 million
  • Community Health Systems, Inc., based in Franklin, Tennessee, and its 31 affiliated hospitals for $13 million
  • HCA Holdings, Inc. (Hospital Corporation of America), based in Nashville, Tennessee, and its 42 affiliated hospitals for $15.8 million

Medicare coverage for the device, which costs approximately $25,000, is governed by a National Coverage Determination (NCD).  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services implemented the NCD based on clinical trials and the guidance and testimony of cardiologists and other health care providers, professional cardiology societies, cardiac device manufacturers and patient advocates.  The NCD provides that ICDs generally should not be implanted in patients who have recently suffered a heart attack or recently had heart bypass surgery or angioplasty.  The medical purpose of a waiting period -40 days for a heart attack and 90 days for bypass/angioplasty – is to give the heart an opportunity to improve function on its own to the point that an ICD may not be necessary.  The NCD expressly prohibits implantation of ICDs during these waiting periods, with certain exceptions.  The Department of Justice alleged that from 2003 to 2010, each of the settling hospitals implanted ICDs during the periods prohibited by the NCD.

 

Most of the settling defendants were named in a qui tam, or whistleblower, lawsuit brought under the False Claims Act, which permits private citizens to bring lawsuits on behalf of the United States and receive a portion of the proceeds of any settlement or judgment awarded against a defendant.  The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in the Southern District of Florida by Leatrice Ford Richards, a cardiac nurse, and Thomas Schuhmann, a health care reimbursement consultant.  The whistleblowers have received more than $38 million from the settlements.  The Department of Justice is continuing to investigate additional hospitals and health systems.

The settlements were the result of a coordinated effort among the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Florida, the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and HHS-OIG, Office of Investigations and Office of Counsel to the Inspector General.