National hospice provider found guilty of filing false claims

One of the nation's largest for-profit hospice care providers fraudulently billed Medicare for $67.5 million for patients who weren’t terminally ill, a federal jury in Alabama voted Thursday.

Jurors were asked to look at whether AseraCarehad filed false Medicare reimbursement claims for each of the 121 patients, a sample of the more than 40,000 patients during a four-year period. The jury decided the company filed 104 false claims.

The verdict marks the end of the first phase of a trial brought forward by six AseraCare whistleblowers. It is the largest U.S. false claims lawsuit involving a hospice company to date.

“I am pleased,” said Birmingham, Ala., attorney Jim Barger to Alabama Media Group. Barger represents the former AseraCare workers from Alabama, Georgia and Wisconsin. “We appreciate the dedication of the Department of Justice and look forward to proceeding to phase two.”

The second phase of the trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday. The jury will review allegations that AseraCare pressured nurses and doctors to sign up patients and keep them under Medicare-funded hospice care, information the jury wasn’t allowed to hear during the first phase that began Aug. 10.

If the jury rules against AseraCare in the second phase, the U.S. Department of Justice said it would seek $202 million in Medicare reimbursement, fines and other penalties.

AseraCare operates 55 hospice facilities in 19 states with around 10,000 patient admissions each year. The majority of AseraCare patients are enrolled in Medicare program, according to court documents.

Read more about the lawsuit here.

Topics: Medicare/Medicaid