A major U.S. hospital service provider, TeamHealth Holdings, as successor in interest to IPC Healthcare Inc., f/k/a IPC The Hospitalists Inc. (IPC), has agreed to resolve allegations that IPC violated the False Claims Act by billing Medicare, Medicaid, the Defense Health Agency and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program for higher and more expensive levels of medical service than were actually performed (a practice known as “up-coding”), the Department of Justice announced on Monday. Under the settlement agreement, TeamHealth has agreed to pay $60 million, plus interest.
“This settlement reflects our ongoing commitment to ensure that health care providers appropriately bill government programs vital to patient health care,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.
The government contended that IPC knowingly and systematically encouraged false billings by its hospitalists, who are medical professionals whose primary focus is the medical care of hospitalized patients. Specifically, the government alleged that IPC encouraged its hospitalists to bill for a higher level of service than actually provided. IPC’s scheme to improperly maximize billings allegedly included corporate pressure on hospitalists with lower billing levels to “catch up” to their peers.
“Medical providers who fraudulently seek payments to which they are not entitled will be held accountable,” said U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon for the Northern District of Illinois. “False documentation of treatment is not just flawed patient care; it is illegal.”
As part of the settlement, TeamHealth entered into a five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) covering the company’s hospital medicine division. This CIA is designed to increase TeamHealth’s accountability and transparency so that the company will avoid or promptly detect future fraud and abuse.
“When health care companies boost their profits by misrepresenting the services they bill to taxpayer-funded health care programs, our office will make sure they are held accountable for their deceptive schemes and that they make changes to bill these programs appropriately,” said Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh of HHS-OIG.
The settlement resolves allegations filed in a lawsuit by Dr. Bijan Oughatiyan, a physician formerly employed by IPC as a hospitalist. The lawsuit was filed in a federal court in Chicago, Illinois, under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery. The Act also allows the government to intervene and take over the action, as it did in this case. Mr. Oughatiyan will receive approximately $11.4 million.
The government’s intervention in this matter illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud. One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act. Tips and complaints from all sources about potential fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, can be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services, at 800-HHS-TIPS (800-447-8477).
The settlement was the result of a coordinated effort by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, and HHS-OIG.
The case is captioned United States ex rel. Oughatiyan v. IPC The Hospitalist, Inc., et al., Case No. 09-C-5418 (N.D. Ill.). The claims resolved by the settlements are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.