Government Intervenes in False Claims Lawsuit Against Ipc the Hospitalist Co. Inc. Alleging Overbilling of Physician Services

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The government has intervened in a lawsuit against IPC The Hospitalist Co. Inc., and its subsidiaries (IPC), alleging that IPC submitted false claims to federal health care programs, the Justice Department announced today.  IPC, based in North Hollywood, Calif., is one of the largest providers of hospitalist services in the United States, employing physicians and other health care providers who work in more than 1,300 facilities in 28 states.  Hospitalists are physicians who work only in hospitals and other long-term care facilities, overseeing and coordinating inpatient care from admission to discharge.

The lawsuit alleges that IPC physicians sought payment for higher and more expensive levels of medical service than were actually performed – a practice commonly referred to as “upcoding.”  Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that IPC encouraged its physicians to bill at the highest levels regardless of the level of service provided, trained physicians to use higher level codes and encouraged physicians with lower billing levels to “catch up” to their peers.

“We continue to be vigilant in our enforcement efforts to ensure that health care programs funded by the taxpayers pay only for appropriate costs,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division Stuart F. Delery.

The lawsuit was filed by Dr. Bijan Oughatiyan, a former IPC physician, under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to sue for false claims on behalf of the government and to share in any recovery.  The Act also allows the government to intervene or take over the lawsuit, as it has done in this case, and to recover three times its damages plus civil penalties.  The government has asked the U.S. District Court in Chicago for 120 days to file its own complaint stating its allegations.

This intervention illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and marks another achievement for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced in May 2009 by Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  The partnership between the two departments has focused efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud through enhanced cooperation.  One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act.  Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered a total of more than $17 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $12.2 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.

The case was investigated by the Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, with assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.
The case is captioned United States ex rel. Oughatiyan v. IPC The Hospitalist Company Inc., et al., Civ. No. 09 C 5418 (N.D. Ill.).  The claims asserted against IPC are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability. 

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