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Hospice provider agrees to pay $150m in settlement

New Hampshire Sunday News

January 11. 2014 10:28PM

A for-profit hospice and home health care provider with eight locations in New Hampshire has agreed to pay $150 million to settle an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into its billing practices.

Amedisys Home Health and Hospice, which is based in Baton Rouge, La., admitted no wrongdoing, according to a company statement.

"We are pleased to begin the process of closing this matter. Delivering the highest quality care to the 70,000 patients we serve across the nation each day has always been and continues to be our top priority," it stated."The company is confident we can pay the settlement without damage to our mission or our ability to compete in the marketplace."

Meanwhile, a former employee of Beacon Hospice in Concord, which was acquired by Amedisys in 2011, has filed a federal lawsuit against the company for wrongful discharge.

Laurie Turner of Concord, who was a business office specialist at Beacon, claims she was fired in retaliation for raising allegations that hospice staff were visiting patients without first getting orders from physicians and then improperly billing for those unauthorized visits.

Filed in U.S. District Court, the lawsuit claims that the company violated the state's Whistleblower Protection Act. Amedisys has denied the allegations in court documents; the case is scheduled for trial next December.

John Wagner, senior vice president of the Northeast for Amedisys, said in an email that quality patient care is "the lifeblood of our business." He said the company's operations are "highly regulated" by federal, state and local authorities and subject to both government and internal audits. "We work very hard to instill a culture of compliance within our operations," he said.

The company's troubles come at a time when for-profit hospices across the country are coming under scrutiny by regulators.

. The U.S. Department of Justice last May filed suit against the country's largest for-profit hospice chain, VITAS Hospice Services. The DOJ alleges the company "knowingly submitted ... false claims for hospice care for patients who were not terminally ill" and paid bonuses to staff based on the number of patients enrolled and longer lengths of stay, according to a news release. The company's CEO has denied the allegations and vowed to "vigorously defend its compliance record and industry leadership."

A Florida company, Hospice of the Comforter Inc., agreed last November to pay $3 million to resolve allegations that it filed false Medicare claims for services to patients who were not terminally ill, between 2005 and 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.. And San Diego Hospice closed and filed for bankruptcy after a federal audit of its Medicare billing practices.The DOJ has since filed a claim for $112.8 million with the bankruptcy court.

Jacqueline Chen Valencia, senior vice president of communications for Amedisys, said in the current climate, all for-profit hospice companies are being viewed in the same light."One of the things that is very challenging ... is that you can be the best house on a bad block, and it's just one of those industries where we do tend to get painted with a broad brush," she said.

Her company's hospice care teams, she said, "do amazing things for these families, and it's just unfortunate that the misperceptions are out there."

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