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Hospice firm pays $2.4 million after Atlanta whistleblowers cry fraud

A hospice company agreed to pay $2.4 million to settle allegations by two Atlanta whistleblowers that the company had falsely billed taxpayers after paying kickbacks to doctors for patient referrals.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta said Compassionate Care Hospice Group falsely billed Medicare and Medicaid in the alleged scheme. The company is registered in Florida but headquartered in Parsippany, N.J.

Between 2007 and 2011, the Compassionate Care paid kickbacks to five doctors for referrals and certifications that the patients were eligible for hospice services, according to investigators.

“Kickbacks should never play a role in medical decision-making,” U.S. Attorney John Horn said Thursday in a statement. “When healthcare providers are paid for referrals, the costs of health services inevitably rise and ultimately are borne by taxpayers.”

Hospices have been under scrutiny in recent years for Medicare and Medicaid fraud and abuse. Patients are only supposed to receive hospice care if they are expected to live less than six months. Hospice care is aimed at relieving a terminally ill patient’s suffering, rather than prolonging his or her life.

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But whistleblowers in several cases have alleged that hospices took in patients who lived for years without the regular medical care they otherwise would have received.

In 2015, a Georgia hospice, Guardian Hospice, agreed to pay $3 million to resolve allegations that it falsely billed taxpayers for patients who were not terminally ill.

In the most recent case, two Atlanta employees at Compassionate Care, Cathy Morris and Josie King, filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta under the False Claims Act.

The law allows whistleblowers to sue on behalf of the federal government and receive a portion of any court awards or settlements.

The federal attorney general’s office said the case was investigated by the FBI with help from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Inspector General and the Georgia Attorney General’s Medicaid fraud unit.

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