A lab owner preyed on nursing home clients to bilk Medicare out of at least $7 million in claims for early COVID-era tests that were unnecessary and, in some cases, never performed, the government said this week. 

The Justice Department filed a False Claims Act complaint against Patrick Britton-Harr and multiple laboratory companies. According to the complaint, Britton-Harr owned and operated Provista Health LLC, which federal prosecutors said billed for medically unnecessary respiratory pathogen panel, or RPP, tests. The complaint alleges that these RPP tests were not medically necessary because the beneficiaries had no symptoms of a respiratory illness and because the tests were for uncommon respiratory pathogens.

In many cases, the lab tests were not ordered by a physician. The July 18 complaint alleges that multiple physicians denied ordering the thousands of RPP tests for which Britton-Harr and Provista Health submitted claims to Medicare. In at least 300 claims, the government charges, the company stated a nasal swab test sample was collected from a Medicare beneficiary on a date after that individual had died.    

The Department of Justice Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland are pursuing the case in US District Court. Prosecutors said Britton-Harr wholly owned and operated Provista Health, AMS Onsite Inc., Britton-Harr Enterprises Inc., Coastal Laboratories Inc. and Coastal Management Group Inc., which conspired with Britton-Harr on the schemes.

“Many states, including Maryland, instituted emergency policies that required COVID-19 testing of patients in these nursing homes,” the government said in a 58-page court filing. “Defendant Britton-Harr, a self-described ‘serial entrepreneur’ with ‘expertise [. . .] in understanding and executing on complex healthcare reimbursement mechanisms,’ sought to profit off the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic by taking advantage of nursing homes that were desperate to obtain COVID-19 tests for their patients.”

Britton-Harr’s companies agreed to perform COVID tests at no cost to the nursing homes for their residents, but then ran a wide range of other tests without giving the clients a way to dictate which results they needed. Among the tests for which they billed Medicare were panels checking for canine kennel cough, which manifests itself only in dogs, and other respiratory conditions rare in humans. 

In all, the government said the defendants billed and received over $7 million in reimbursement from Medicare before their scheme fell apart in fall of 2020, when they lost their lab.

In late summer of 2020, prosecutors said Britton-Harr transferred his financial proceeds from the scheme to his other companies and abandoned the healthcare industry. He then used some of the proceeds to lease or purchase various aircraft, and he then founded a new company called Aerovanti that provides private charter planes.