Over 50 more hospitals settle cardiac false claims allegations

by Ben Vernia | February 23rd, 2016

On February 17, the Department of Justice announced that fifty-one hospitals had agreed more than $23 million to settle allegations, originally brought by two whistlebowers in Florida. When combined with a set of settlements announced last fall, this announcement brings the total to over 500 hospitals. According to DOJ’s press release:

The Department of Justice has reached settlements with 51 hospitals in 15 states for more than $23 million related to cardiac devices that were implanted in Medicare patients in violation of Medicare coverage requirements, the Department of Justice announced today.  These settlements represent the final stage of a nationwide investigation into the practices of hundreds of hospitals improperly billing Medicare for these devices.  With these additional agreements, the Justice Department’s investigation has now yielded settlements with more than 500 hospitals totaling more than $280 million.

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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.

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.

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The department previously settled with 457 hospitals for more than $250 million.

The settlements announced today involve 51 hospitals, which are listed on the attached chart.  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 $3.5 million from the settlements announced today.

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