Vitas agrees to record-setting settlement

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The nation's largest for-profit hospice provider and its parent company will pay $75 million to settle allegations that it submitted false Medicare claims for hospice services, according to federal authorities.

The U.S. Department of Justice claims that between 2002 and 2013, Vitas Healthcare, which provides hospice services in 14 states, knowingly submitted bills to Medicare for hospice patients who were not terminally ill and did not qualify for the program's hospice benefit. 

Vitas also allegedly gave employees bonuses based on the number of patients receiving hospice care, regardless of whether they were terminally ill or would have benefitted from curative care.

The federal suit additionally named Vitas' parent company, Chemed Corporation.

“This resolution represents the largest amount ever recovered under the False Claims Act from a provider of hospice services,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the U.S. Justice Department's civil division said in a statement.

“Medicare's hospice benefit provides critical services to some of the most vulnerable Medicare patients, and the Department will continue to ensure that this valuable benefit is used to assist those who need it, and not as an opportunity to line the pockets of those who seek to abuse it,” he added.

Vitas CEO Nick Westfall told the Palm Beach Post that the settlement was made “without any admission of wrongdoing” by his company. 

“This civil litigation concerned professional disagreement between physicians in reaching a terminal prognosis as well as physician judgment in determining appropriate levels of care,” Westfall said. 

In addition to resolving the government's lawsuit, the settlement will put to rest three whistleblower lawsuits filed against the provider, though the amount to be recovered by the whistleblowers had not been determined as of press time.