Hospice Fraud – A Review For Employees, Whistleblowers, Attorneys, Lawyers and Law Firms
Hospice fraud in South Carolina and the United States is an increasing problem as the number of hospice patients has exploded over the past few years. From 2004 to 2008, the number of patients receiving hospice care in the United States grew almost 40% to nearly 1.5 million, and of the 2.5 million people who died in 2008, nearly one million were hospice patients. The overwhelming majority of people receiving hospice care receive federal benefits from the federal government through the Medicare or Medicaid programs. The health care providers who provide hospice services traditionally enroll in the Medicare and Medicaid programs in order to qualify to receive payments under these government programs for services rendered to Medicare and Medicaid eligible patients.
While most hospice health care organizations provide appropriate and ethical treatment for their hospice patients, because hospice eligibility under Medicare and Medicaid involves clinical judgments which may result in the payments of large sums of money from the federal government, there are tremendous opportunities for fraudulent practices and false billing claims by unscrupulous hospice care providers. As recent federal hospice fraud enforcement actions have demonstrated, the number of health care companies and individuals who are willing to try to defraud the Medicare and Medicaid hospice benefits programs is on the rise.
A recent example of hospice fraud involving a hospice in ventura South Carolina hospice is Southern Care, Inc., a hospice company that in 2009 paid $24.7 million to settle an FCA case. The defendant operated hospices in 14 other states, too, including Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. The alleged frauds were that patients were not eligible for hospice, to wit, were not terminally ill, lack of documentation of terminal illnesses, and that the company marketed to potential patients with the promise of free medications, supplies, and the provision of home health aides. Southern Care also entered into a 5-year Corporate Integrity Agreement with the OIG as part of the settlement. The qui tam relators received almost $5 million.
Understanding the Consequences of Hospice Fraud and Whistleblower Actions
U.S. and South Carolina consumers, including hospice patients and their family members, and health care employees who are employed in the hospice industry, as well as their SC lawyers and attorneys, should familiarize themselves with the basics of the hospice care industry, hospice eligibility under the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and hospice fraud schemes that have developed across the country. Consumers need to protect themselves from unethical hospice providers, and hospice employees need to guard against knowingly or unwittingly participating in health care fraud against the federal government because they may subject themselves to administrative sanctions, including lengthy exclusions from working in an organization which receives federal funds, enormous civil monetary penalties and fines, and criminal sanctions, including incarceration. When a hospice employee discovers fraudulent conduct involving Medicare or Medicaid billings or claims, the employee should not participate in such behavior, and it is imperative that the unlawful conduct be reported to law enforcement and/or regulatory authorities. Not only does reporting such fraudulent Medicare or Medicaid practices shield the hospice employee from exposure to the foregoing administrative, civil and criminal sanctions, but hospice fraud whistleblowers may benefit financially under the reward provisions of the federal False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729-3732, by bringing false claims suits, also known as qui tam or whistleblower suits, against their employers on behalf of the United States.