Quest Diagnostics pays $6 million to settle suit over kickbacks paid to docs to use blood testing services

Quest Diagnostics Inc. will pay $6 million to resolve a lawsuit by the United States alleging that Berkeley HeartLab Inc., of Alameda, California, violated the False Claims Act by paying kickbacks to doctors and patients to induce the use of Berkeley for blood testing services and by charging for medically unnecessary tests. Quest, which is headquartered in Madison, New Jersey, acquired Berkeley in 2011, and ended the conduct that gave rise to the settlement.According to the government’s complaint, Berkeley paid kickbacks to referring physicians disguised as “process and handling” fees. The complaint also alleged that Berkeley paid kickbacks to patients by routinely waiving copayments owed by certain patients who were legally required to pay for part of their tests. Allegedly, Berkeley paid the kickbacks to induce both the physicians and patients who received them to choose Berkeley over other laboratories. The government’s complaint further alleged that these illegal practices resulted in medically unnecessary cardiovascular tests being charged to federal healthcare programs.

Physicians refer their patients to independent laboratories like Berkeley to conduct tests on blood samples. According to the government’s complaint, Berkeley paid kickbacks to referring physicians disguised as “process and handling” fees.

The Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits offering, paying, soliciting or receiving remuneration to induce referrals of items or services covered by federally funded programs. The Anti-Kickback Statute is intended to ensure that a physician’s medical judgment is not compromised by improper financial incentives and is instead based on the best interests of the patient. The Anti-Kickback Statute also prohibits routinely waiving patient copayments to ensure that patients are appropriately incentivized to refuse unnecessary tests.

The lawsuit was initially filed by Dr. Michael Mayes under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act. Under the act, private citizens can bring suit on behalf of the government for false claims and share in any recovery. The act permits the United States to intervene in and take over a whistleblower suit. The United States partially intervened in this and two related actions on March 31, 2015, and is continuing to pursue claims against the remaining defendants: Latonya Mallory, the former CEO of Health Diagnostics Laboratory Inc., and marketing company BlueWave Healthcare Consultants Inc. and its owners, Floyd Calhoun Dent III and Robert Bradford Johnson. Dr. Mayes’ share of the settlement with Quest has not been determined.

Jeffrey Newman represents whistleblowers but not Dr. Mayes in this case who was represented by Peter Chatfield.