Hospital Chain Pays $32M in False-Claims Deal

     HOUSTON (CN) — Vibra Healthcare will pay the government and a whistleblower $32 million to settle claims it billed Medicare for patients it shouldn’t have admitted to its long-term care hospitals, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
     The Pennsylvania-based company operates hospitals and rehab centers in 18 states.
     The settlement resolves a whistleblower lawsuit that Sylvia Daniel, a former medical coder at a Vibra hospital in Michigan, filed against the company in 2010, alleging it fraudulently billed Medicare in violation of the False Claims Act.
     The federal government signed on as a co-plaintiff. It claims Vibra admitted numerous Medicare patients whose medical conditions did not qualify them for specialized care at five of its long-term care hospitals and one of its rehab facilities.
     Vibra settled without admitting liability.
     The False Claims Act lets whistleblowers file lawsuits under seal on the federal government’s behalf. If the government decides to join as a plaintiff, the whistleblower, called the relator in court filings, gets a reward of 15 to 25 percent of any settlement or judgment.
     If the government declines to become a co-plaintiff, the relator gets from 25 to 30 percent of any recovered funds.
     Daniel will receive at least $4 million, the Justice Department said in a statement Wednesday.
     Daniel filed the lawsuit in Houston federal court. Despite the settlement announcement, the lawsuit was still sealed Wednesday morning.
     The U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Southern District of Texas and Western District of Kentucky, along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, worked the case.
     “Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered a total of more than $30.7 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $18.5 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal healthcare programs,” federal prosecutors said in the statement.
     Vibra officials didn’t immediately respond Wednesday morning to a request for comment.

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