Tenet Healthcare Inc., a multinational healthcare services conglomerate worth over $18 billion, and two of its subsidiary companies have committed to pay out a total of $513 million to the United States government after it was revealed to be defrauding federal and state government agencies through an egregious scheme where kickback payments were doled out in exchange for patient referrals.
The two subsidiary companies, Atlanta Medical Center Inc. and North Fulton Medical Center Inc., will plead guilty to a healthcare kickback scheme that unnecessarily funneled pregnant patients to Tenet Healthcare facilities for kickback payments, which is in direct violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute, which “prohibits the exchange (or offer to exchange), of anything of value, in an effort to induce (or reward) the referral of federal health care program business.” Tenet Healthcare Inc. agreed to pay out $368 million to the federal government, the state of Georgia and the state of South Carolina in response to multiple civil court claims brought against them under the authority of the federal False Claims Act and Georgia’s local statute equivalent. The federal government will receive over $244 million of that, Georgia will receive over $122 million, South Carolina will receive $892,125 and Ralph D. Williams, who filed the initial case in Georgia, will receive about $85 million.
“Using their positions of trust, health providers – after receiving payments from Tenet – sent expectant women specifically to Tenet hospitals,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General. “Patients were often directed to Tenet facilities miles and miles from their homes and on their journeys passed other hospitals that could have provided needed care. These women were thereby placed at increased risk during one of the most vulnerable points in their lives.” The depth and scale of the illicit operation is unprecedented in the area and is amongst the most lucrative of such schemes ever brought to light in the United States. The Attorney General’s office praised collaborative work from local, state and federal litigators in helping shed light on the corruption.
“Our Medicaid system is premised on a patient’s ability to make an informed choice about where to seek care without undue interference from those seeking to make a profit,” said U.S. Attorney John Horn of the Northern District of Georgia. “Tenet cheated the Medicaid system by paying bribes and kickbacks to a pre-natal clinic to unlawfully refer over 20,000 Medicaid patients to the hospitals. In so doing, they exploited some of the most vulnerable members of our community and took advantage of a payment system designed to ensure that underprivileged patients have choices in receiving care.”
No company, regardless of size, can toy with its patients’ care for profit
The Tenet case is another sad reminder of how companies of considerable wealth, breadth and success just cannot seem to resist greedy, shady and illegal tactics to earn more patients and secure more profits. This scheme directly put patients second and profit margins for the parent and subsidiary companies first. This is not Tenet’s first major scandal either. Since the early 1990s, Tenet has been involved in scandals involving hospitalizing and overcharging patients for unnecessary psychiatric care, performing dangerous and unnecessary heart surgeries on over 600 patients, and was caught in another Medicare fraud scandal in 2006. In all of these cases, rather than accept blame or go to court, they settled for hundreds of millions of dollars combined to avoid admitting any fault. Continue reading