Today, the United States Department of Justice issued a press release stating that it has partially intervened in a qui tam suit filed by Frohsin & Barger against Evercare Hospice and Palliative Care (Evercare) for alleged false claims under the Medicare hospice benefit (United States ex rel. Rice v. Evercare Hospice, Inc., No. 14-cv-01647 (D. Colo.)). Renamed, Optum Palliative and Hospice Care, Evercare is a nationwide for-profit provider of hospice services with ties to UnitedHealth Group Inc.
Frohsin & Barger filed the suit on behalf of a former employee of Evercare who was sadden by what she perceived to be an abuse of the hospice benefit and a deciet against patients who were unwittingly convinced to forego all curative treatment and elect end-of-life care when they were not actually dying. In announcing its intervention into the case, DoJ highlighted that the lawsuit makes “allegations that management pressured employees and physicians to admit and retain patients who were not terminally ill and challenged or disregarded physicians’ decisions that patients should be discharged.”
“Fewer than 25% of all False Claims Act qui tam cases result in intervention,” said Jim Barger, attorney for relator Sharelene Rice. Barger is a scholar on the federal and state False Claims Act and whistleblower litigation who teaches upper level courses on the subject at the University of Alabama School of Law. “So, we view government intervention as strong vindication that the United States agrees with our client and is willing to vigorously pursue her allegations.”
In recent years, for-profit corporations have made a huge push into the hospice market, which is overwhelmingly funded by taxpayer dollars, primarily through Medicare but also through Medicaid and Tricare. Investigative reporters have also begun to question whether the staggering profits in hospice are legitimate, including recent reports by the Washington Post and by the Huffington Post. Several major national hospice chains are currently under scrutiny and subject to lawsuits by the Department of Justice and former employee whistleblowers, many of whom are represented by Frohsin & Barger. Under the False Claims Act, qualifying whistleblowers are entitled to receive 15-25% of any recovery made by the government in an intervened case.
To report hospice fraud or other Medicare fraud, contact Frohsin & Barger.