National hospice company with faces Medicare fraud accusations
The Justice Department last week joined a whistleblower case against AseraCare in federal court in Birmingham, Ala.
In its complaint, the government alleges AseraCare violated the False Claims Act when it misspent millions of taxpayer dollars intended for Medicare recipients with a prognosis of six months or less to live.
The Justice Department is seeking restitution of three times the damages and a penalty of $5,500 to $11,000 per claim. The False Claims Act allows private citizens with knowledge of fraud to file whistleblower suits on behalf of the government and share in any recovery of funds.
The whistleblower suit was originally filed in 2009 by former AseraCare employees Dawn Richardson, a registered nurse, and Marsha Brown, who directed AseraCare Hospice programs in three Alabama cities.
Their complaint says that since 2002 the company defrauded the federal government by enrolling patients who didn’t qualify. It also accuses the company of moving patients between nursing homes and its hospice firm to maximize the amount the company got from Medicare.
For-profit hospice companies like AseraCare are entitled to receive Medicare dollars only for Medicare recipients who are terminally ill, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorneys’ office. When a business admits a Medicare recipient to hospice care, that patient is no longer eligible to receive services that would help to cure illnesses.
“Medicare benefits, including hospice benefits, are intended only for those individuals who are appropriately qualified,” U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance said in the release. “We must protect the public welfare and tax-funded benefits programs.”