Late Thursday, DoJ filed and announced a false claims act complaint against Vitas, the hospice business owned and operated by Chemed Corp, whose other business is septic tank cleaning giant Roto-Rooter. According to the government’s complaint Vitas systematically billed Medicare for terminal care for people who were not dying — even in such instances where Vitas’s own documentation stated a patient was “very healthy given her age.”
The most troubling aspect of the conduct that DoJ alleges Vitas committed is that in order to present false claims for hospice services, Vitas would have had to convince patients and their families to believe that they were dying when they really were not — just so that it could bill Medicare. According to the government’s complaint, Vitas may have received as much as a billion dollars or more per year from Medicare for hospice service claims.
Frohsin & Barger client Michael Rehfeldt, a former executive director for Vitas, complained that Vitas encouraged its clinical staff to admit as many patients as possible without any genuine regard for their diagnosis, and that Vitas rigorously tracked its daily Medicare patient census and enforced strict admission quotas. Ultimately, Rehfeldt filed a federal qui tam complaint about Vitas’s allegedly fraudulent practices and together with his attorneys at Frohsin & Barger cooperated with the government investigation– leading to DoJ’s lawsuit against the company. In April, Rehfeldt’s qui tam suit was voluntarily dismissed preserving the right to re-file if necessary and making way for DoJ to prosecute the alleged fraud in the present suit.
“The Medicare hospice benefit is intended to provide patients nearing the end of life with pain management and other palliative care to make them as comfortable as possible,” said Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division. “Too often, however, we hear reports of companies that abuse this critical service by using aggressive marketing tactics to push patients into services they don’t need in order to get higher reimbursements from the government.”
Read a copy of the False Claims Act complaint against Vitas here: United States v. Vitas Hospice Services, et al.