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Los Angeles Hospital Agrees to Pay $42 Million to Settle Alleged False Claims Act Violations Arising from Improper Payments to Physicians

PAMC Ltd., and Pacific Alliance Medical Center Inc., which together own and operate Pacific Alliance Medical Center, an acute care hospital located in Los Angeles, California, have agreed to pay $42 million to settle allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by engaging in improper financial relationships with referring physicians, the Justice Department announced yesterday. Of the total settlement amount, $31.9 million will be paid to the Federal Government, and $10 million will be paid to the State of California.

The settlement announced yesterday resolves allegations brought in a whistleblower lawsuit that the defendants submitted false claims to the Medicare and MediCal Programs for services rendered to patients referred by physicians with whom the defendants had improper financial relationships. These relationships took the form of (1) arrangements under which the defendants allegedly paid above-market rates to rent office space in physicians’ offices, and (2) marketing arrangements that allegedly provided undue benefit to physicians’ practices. The lawsuit alleged that these relationships violated the Anti-Kickback Statute and the Stark Law, both of which restrict the financial relationships that hospitals may have with doctors who refer patients to them.

“This is another example of how the False Claims Act whistleblower provisions can help protect the public fisc,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “This recovery should help to deter other health care providers from entering into improper financial relationships with physicians that can taint the physicians’ medical judgment, to the detriment of patients and taxpayers.”

The lawsuit was filed by Paul Chan, who was employed as a manager by one of the defendants, under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act. Under the Act, private citizens can bring suit on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery. The United States may intervene in the lawsuit, or, as in this case, the whistleblower may pursue the action. Mr. Chan will receive over $9.2 million as his share of the federal recovery.

“Federal law prohibits improper financial relationships between hospitals that receive federal health care funds and medical professionals – this is to protect the doctor-patient relationship and to ensure the quality of care provided,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown for the Central District of California. “Patients deserve to know their doctors are making health care decisions based solely on medical need and not for any potential financial benefit.”

“This settlement is a warning to health care companies that think they can boost their profits by entering into improper financial arrangements with referring physicians,” said Special Agent in Charge Christian J. Schrank of the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “Working with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to crack down on such deals, which work to undermine impartial medical judgement, drive up health care costs, and corrode the public’s trust in the health care system.”

The case, United States ex rel. Chan v. PAMC, Ltd., et al., Case No. 13-cv-4273 (C.D. Cal.), was monitored by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, and HHS-OIG. The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.