Home » Central Coast County Organized Health System, Three Health Care Providers Agree to Pay $68M for Alleged False Claims to Medi-Cal
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Central Coast County Organized Health System, Three Health Care Providers Agree to Pay $68M for Alleged False Claims to Medi-Cal

LOS ANGELES – A county organized health system (COHS) that arranges services for Medi-Cal enrollees in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties and three Central Coast health care providers have agreed to pay a total of $68 million to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act and the California False Claims Act by submitting or causing the submission of false claims to Medi-Cal related to Medicaid Adult Expansion under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The four entities that entered into settlement agreements with the United States and the State of California are the Santa Barbara San Luis Obispo Regional Health Authority, doing business as CenCal Health, a COHS that contracts to arrange for the provision of health care services under Medi-Cal, which is California’s Medicaid program; Cottage Health System, a not-for-profit hospital network operating in Santa Barbara County; Sansum Clinic, a non-profit outpatient clinic operating in Santa Barbara County; and Community Health Centers of the Central Coast (CHC), a non-profit community health center operating in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

The settlement agreements were executed earlier this month, and late Wednesday a federal judge unsealed the “whistleblower” case naming the entities.

Pursuant to the ACA, beginning in January 2014, Medi-Cal was expanded to cover the previously uninsured “Adult Expansion” population – adults between the ages of 19 and 64 without dependent children with annual incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level. The federal government fully funded the expansion coverage for the first three years of the program. Under contracts with California’s Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), if CenCal did not spend at least 85% of the funds it received for the Adult Expansion population on “allowed medical expenses,” CenCal was required to pay back to the state the difference between 85% and what it actually spent. California, in turn, was required to return that amount to the federal government.

The four settlements resolve allegations that CenCal, Cottage, Sansum, and CHC knowingly submitted or caused the submission of false claims to Medi-Cal for “Enhanced Services” that were purportedly provided to Adult Expansion Medi-Cal members: by Cottage between January 1, 2014 and June 30, 2016; by Sansum and CHC between January 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016; and by certain other healthcare providers between January 1, 2014 and June 30, 2016.

The United States and California alleged that the payments were not “allowed medical expenses” permissible under the contract between DHCS and CenCal; were pre-determined amounts that did not reflect the fair market value of any Enhanced Services provided; and/or the Enhanced Services were duplicative of services already required to be rendered. The United States and California further alleged that the payments were unlawful gifts of public funds in violation of the California Constitution.

As a result of the settlements, CenCal will pay $49.5 million, Cottage will pay $9 million, Sansum will pay $4.5 million, and CHC will pay $3.15 million to the United States. In addition, California will receive payments totaling $1.85 million.

“These historic settlements demonstrate our steadfast efforts to eradicate fraud involving Medicaid Adult Expansion,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada. “Health care systems and providers are on notice that the False Claims Act provides us with a powerful tool to ensure that taxpayer-funded health care programs are used for patient care, and not for furtive financial gain.”

“Medicaid expansion funds must be used for their intended purpose of providing health care services to low-income individuals,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “When health care systems and providers knowingly misuse Medicaid funds, they will be held accountable.”

“Federal health care programs are an important resource for millions of Americans to receive medical care,” said Timothy B. DeFrancesca, Special Agent in Charge at the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “HHS-OIG will continue to ensure that federal health care funds are used as intended and protected from fraud, waste, and abuse.”

“Medi-Cal is a lifeline that provides access to free or affordable healthcare services for millions of Californians and their families,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta. “When any healthcare provider or agency defrauds the program, they break the public’s trust and put their own bottom line before the patients who count on them for honest, quality care and services. I am grateful to the Justice Department for its extensive efforts throughout the course of this investigation. The California Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners will continue to hold accountable those who defraud the Medi-Cal program, and protect those it serves.”

The civil settlements include the resolution of claims brought under the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act by Julio Bordas, CenCal’s former medical director. Under the act, a private party can file an action on behalf of the United States and receive a portion of any recovery. Dr. Bordas will receive approximately $12.56 million as his share of the federal recovery.

The United States previously settled similar allegations against Dignity Health (which operates Arroyo Grande Community Hospital, French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, and Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria) and Twin Cities Community Hospital and Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, two subsidiaries of Tenet Healthcare Corporation, relating to payments they received from CenCal under the Adult Expansion program.

The partial resolution obtained in this matter was the result of a coordinated effort between the United States Attorney’s Office; the Justice Department’s Civil Division, Commercial Litigation Branch, Fraud Section; and the California Department of Justice, with assistance from HHS-OIG and DHCS. This case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Jack D. Ross of the Civil Fraud Section, and Trial Attorneys Mary Beth Hickox-Howard and Tiffany L. Ho of the Commercial Litigation Branch.

The investigation of this matter illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating healthcare fraud. One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act. Tips and complaints from all sources about potential fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, can be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services at 800-HHS-TIPS (800-447-8477).

Source: Justice