One of the largest hospital systems in the nation and two of its doctors will pay $37.5 million to resolve violations of the False Claims Act and the California False Claims Act. The settlement – which resolved two cases – is a joint resolution with the U.S. Department of Justice and the California Department of Justice.
The United States and California entered into a settlement agreement with the Prime Healthcare Services system; Prime’s founder and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Prem Reddy; and interventional cardiologist Dr. Siva Arunasalam to resolve alleged violations of the False Claims Act and the California False Claims Act based on kickbacks paid by Prime to Arunasalam for patient referrals.
Prime includes the Ontario-based Prime Healthcare Services Inc., Prime Healthcare Foundation Inc., Prime Healthcare Management Inc., High Desert Heart Vascular Institute (HDHVI), and Desert Valley Hospital Inc.
Under the settlement agreement, Arunasalam will pay $2 million. Reddy has already paid $1,775,000, and Prime has paid $33,725,000. The United States will receive $35,463,057 of the settlement proceeds, and California will receive $2,036,943.
In 2018, Prime and Reddy paid $65 million to settle unrelated allegations of false claims and overbilling.
The settlement resolves allegations that:
– – Prime paid kickbacks when it overpaid to purchase Arunasalam’s physician practice and surgery center because the company wanted Arunasalam to refer patients to its Desert Valley Hospital in Victorville. The purchase price, which was substantially negotiated by Reddy, exceeded fair market value and was not commercially reasonable. Prime also knowingly overcompensated the doctor when HDHVI entered into an employment agreement with him that was based on the volume and value of his patient referrals to Desert Valley Hospital;
– – For approximately two years between 2015 and 2017, HDHVI and Arunasalam used Arunasalam’s billing number to bill Medicare and Medi-Cal for services that were provided by Dr. George Ponce, even though they knew Ponce’s Medicare and Medi-Cal billing privileges had been revoked, and that billing Ponce’s services under Arunasalam’s billing number was improper; and
– – Certain Prime hospitals billed Medi-Cal, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs for false claims based on inflated invoices for implantable medical hardware. Arunasalam was not implicated in this conduct.
In connection with the settlement, Prime and Reddy entered into a five-year Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). The CIA requires, among other things, that Prime maintain a compliance program and hire an Independent Review Organization to review arrangements entered into by or on behalf of its subsidiaries and affiliates.
The civil settlement includes the resolution of claims brought under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act in two lawsuits filed in federal court in Los Angeles. One suit was filed by Martin Mansukhani, a former Prime executive. The second suit was filed by Marsha Arnold and Joseph Hill, who were formerly employed in the billing office at Shasta Regional Medical Center, a Prime hospital in Redding, California.
Under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, a private party can file an action on behalf of the United States and receive a portion of any recovery. Although the United States did not intervene in these cases, it continued to investigate the whistleblowers’ allegations and helped to negotiate the settlement announced today. Mr. Mansukhani will receive $9,929,656 as his share of the federal government’s recovery.