Sutter Health pays $30 million in Medicare Advantage settlement

by Ben Vernia | April 19th, 2019

On April 12, 2019, the Department of Justice announced that California-based Sutter Health, LLC, had agreed to pay $30 million to resolve a whistleblower’s allegations that the company submitted unsupported diagnoses of Medicare Part C (“Medicare Advantage”) patients, inflating their risk scores, and, therefore, the amount paid by Medicare. According to DOJ’s press release:

Sutter Health LLC, a California-based healthcare services provider, and several affiliated entities, Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation, Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation, Sutter Gould Medical Foundation, and Sutter Medical Foundation, have agreed to pay $30 million to resolve allegations that the affiliated entities submitted inaccurate information about the health status of beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Advantage Plans, which resulted in the plans and providers being overpaid, the Justice Department announced today.  Sutter Health is headquartered in Sacramento, California.

*   *   *

Under Medicare Advantage, also known as the Medicare Part C program, Medicare beneficiaries have the option of enrolling in managed healthcare insurance plans called Medicare Advantage Plans (“MA Plans”) that are owned and operated by private Medicare Advantage Organizations (“MAOs”).  MA Plans are paid a capitated, or per-person, amount to provide Medicare-covered benefits to beneficiaries who enroll in one of their plans.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”), which oversees the Medicare program, adjusts the payments to MA Plans based on demographic information and the health status of each plan beneficiary.  The adjustments are commonly referred to as “risk scores.”  In general, a beneficiary with more severe diagnoses will have a higher risk score, and CMS will make a larger risk-adjusted payment to the MA Plan for that beneficiary.

Sutter Health, a non-profit public benefit corporation that provides healthcare services through its affiliates, including hospitals and medical foundations, contracted with certain MAOs to provide healthcare services to California beneficiaries enrolled in the MAOs’ MA Plans.  In exchange, Sutter received a share of the payments that the MAOs received from CMS for the beneficiaries under Sutter’s care.

Sutter submitted diagnoses to the MAOs for the MA Plan enrollees that they treated.  The MAOs, in turn, submitted the diagnosis codes to CMS from the beneficiaries’ medical encounters, such as office visits and hospital stays.  The diagnosis codes were used in CMS’ calculation of a risk score for each beneficiary.

The settlement announced today resolves allegations that Sutter and its affiliates submitted unsupported diagnosis codes for certain patient encounters of beneficiaries under their care.  These unsupported diagnosis scores inflated the risk scores of these beneficiaries, resulting in the MAO plans being overpaid.

Earlier this month, the government filed a complaint against Sutter and a separate affiliated entity, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, alleging that they violated the False Claims Act by knowingly submitting unsupported diagnosis scores. That case is captioned United States ex rel. Ormsby v. Sutter Health, et al., Case No. 15-CV-01062-JD (N.D. Cal.), and is still ongoing.

*   *   *

The Government did not disclose the amount (if any) that the whistleblower will be paid from the settlement.

Leave a Reply

Recent Posts

Recent Comments