Florida medical provider settles whistleblowers’ allegations for $24.5 million

by Ben Vernia | April 21st, 2022

On April 12, the Department of Justice announced that a Tampa, Florida-based company, Physician Partners of America, has agreed to pay $24.5 million to settle allegations, originally brought by several former employees in four separate qui tam suits. According to DOJ’s press release:

Physician Partners of America LLC (PPOA), headquartered in Tampa, Florida, its founder, Rodolfo Gari, and its former chief medical officer, Dr. Abraham Rivera, have agreed to pay $24.5 million to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by billing federal healthcare programs for unnecessary medical testing and services, paying unlawful remuneration to its physician employees and making a false statement in connection with a loan obtained through the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Certain PPOA affiliated entities are jointly and severally liable for the settlement amount, including the Florida Pain Relief Group, the Texas Pain Relief Group, Physician Partners of America CRNA Holdings LLC, Medical Tox Labs LLC and Medical DNA Labs LLC.

The United States alleged that PPOA caused the submission of claims for medically unnecessary urine drug testing (UDT), by requiring its physician employees to order multiple tests at the same time without determining whether any testing was reasonable and necessary, or even reviewing the results of initial testing (presumptive UDT) to determine whether additional testing (definitive UDT) was warranted. PPOA’s affiliated toxicology lab then billed federal healthcare programs for the highest-level UDT. In addition, PPOA incentivized its physician employees to order presumptive UDT by paying them 40% of the profits from such testing in violation of the Stark Law, which prohibits physicians from referring patients to receive “designated health services” payable to Medicare or Medicaid from entities with which the physician or an immediate family member has a financial relationship, unless an exception applies.

The United States further alleged that PPOA required patients to submit to genetic and psychological testing before the patients were seen by physicians, without making any determination as to whether the testing was reasonable and necessary, and then billed federal healthcare programs for the tests.

The United States further alleged that when Florida suspended all non-emergency medical procedures to reduce transmission of COVID-19 in March 2020, PPOA sought to compensate for lost revenue by requiring its physician employees to schedule unnecessary evaluation and management (E/M) appointments with patients every 14 days, instead of every month as had been PPOA’s prior practice. PPOA then instructed its physicians to bill these E/M visits using inappropriate high-level procedure codes. Moreover, the United States alleged that at the same time PPOA was engaged in this unlawful overbilling, PPOA falsely represented to the SBA that it was not engaged in unlawful activity in order to obtain a $5.9 million loan through the PPP. The settlement announced today resolves liability under the False Claims Act and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA) arising from the false claims submitted to federal healthcare programs for the E/M visits as well for PPOA’s false statement in connection with its PPP loan.

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The company also entered a five-year corporate integrity agreement with the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Inspector General. The government did not announce what share of the recovery the whistleblowers will receive.

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