U.S. Joins Kickback Suit Against Tenet, Health Management

The Justice Department intervened in a whistleblower lawsuit against Tenet Healthcare Corp. and Health Management Associates Inc. that accuses the hospitals of paying kickbacks for patient referrals.

The hospital chains paid clinics to send pregnant, undocumented Hispanic women to their facilities for deliveries paid for by Medicaid, according to the lawsuit filed in Athens, Georgia, under the Federal False Claims Act.

“Schemes such as this one corrupt the health-care system and take advantage of vulnerable patients,” Stuart Delery, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil division, said in a statement today.

The government’s intervention is part of a continuing probe of health-care fraud that started in 2009. The U.S. has recovered about $13.4 billion through false-claims cases involving federal health-care programs, according to the statement.

The Justice Department last month intervened in eight false-claims cases against HMA accusing the company of billing federal health care programs for unnecessary inpatient admissions from hospital emergency departments.

Four Tenet hospitals and one HMA facility allegedly paid kickbacks that were disguised as payments for services to a chain of obstetric clinics known as Clinica de la Mama, which primarily served undocumented Hispanic women, according to the statement.

Dallas-based Tenet will defend itself against the lawsuit, Steven Campanini, a spokesman for the company, said in a statement.

“By ensuring that pregnant women received prenatal care and appropriate treatment during birth, these programs increased the likelihood of a safe birth and a healthy baby while reducing the overall cost to state Medicaid programs,” he said.

Tomi Galin, a spokeswoman for Franklin, Tennessee-based Community Health Systems Inc., didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Community Health acquired HMA this year.

The case is U.S. v. Health Management Associates Inc., 09-00130, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Georgia (Athens.)