DOJ joins whistleblower's suit against Tenet, Health Management Associates

by Ben Vernia | February 19th, 2014

On February 19, the Department of Justice announced that it was intervening in a whistleblower’s case against Tenet Healthcare Corp., and Health Management Associates involving hospitals owned and operated by the companies in South Carolina and Georgia. According to DOJ’s press release:

The government has intervened in a False Claims Act lawsuit against Tenet Healthcare Corp. (Tenet) and four of its hospitals in Georgia and South Carolina, as well as a hospital in Monroe, Ga., owned by Health Management Associates Inc. (HMA), alleging that the hospitals paid kickbacks to obstetric clinics serving primarily undocumented Hispanic women in return for referral of those patients for labor and delivery at the hospitals. The hospitals then billed the Medicaid programs in Georgia and South Carolina for the services provided to the referred patients and, in some instances, also obtained additional Medicare reimbursement based on the influx of low-income patients. Tenet and HMA are two of the largest owner/operators of hospitals in the United States. HMA was acquired by Community Health Systems last month. The government also is intervening against the clinics and related entities known as Hispanic Medical Management d/b/a Clinica de la Mama.
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The lawsuit alleges that four Tenet hospitals, Atlanta Medical Center, North Fulton Regional Hospital, Spalding Regional Hospital and Hilton Head Hospital in South Carolina, and one HMA facility, Walton Regional Medical Center (since renamed Clearview Regional Medical Center), paid kickbacks to Hispanic Medical Management d/b/a Clinica de la Mama (Clinica) and related entities in return for Clinica’s agreement to send pregnant women to their facilities for deliveries paid for by Medicaid, in violation of the federal Medicare and Medicaid Anti-Kickback Statute. The kickbacks were disguised as payments for a variety of services allegedly provided by Clinica.

The Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits offering, paying, soliciting or receiving remuneration to induce referrals of items or services covered by Medicare, Medicaid and other 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.

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