Hospice provider to pay record-setting $75 million false claims settlement

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

The government claims 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 Department of Justice said in its announcement.

The federal suit, which was filed in 2013 and also named Vitas' parent company Chemed Corporation, additionally claims the provider submitted false Medicare claims for unnecessary home care services, or services that weren't provided.

The settlement marks the largest monetary amount ever recovered from a hospice provider in a False Claims Act case, according to Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler with the DOJ's Civil Division.

Vitas CEO Nick Westfall told the Cincinnati Business Courier that the case was primarily focused on disagreements between physicians on whether patients were terminally ill, an issue that has vexed hospice providers before.

“We've elected to settle the civil litigation without any admission of wrongdoing to avoid the cost and uncertainty of protracted litigation,” Westfall said. “We continue with our commitment, since the inception of the hospice benefit, to provide a comprehensive offering of compassionate, high-quality care to patients and families across the country.”

In addition to resolving the government's lawsuit, Vitas' settlement will put to rest three whistleblower lawsuits filed against the provider.

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