Christus Pays $12.24M Settlement Resolves False Claims Act Charges From “Donations” To New Mexico

September 11, 2017

CHRISTUS St. Vincent Regional Medical Center (St. Vincent) and its partner, CHRISTUS Health (CHRISTUS), have agreed to pay $12.24 million, plus interest  to resolve charges by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) they violated the False Claims Act by making illegal donations to county governments that the counties used to fund the state share of Medicaid payments to the hospital.  The settlement announced  September 1, 2017 highlights the needs for States and private healthcare providers to use care to ensure that creative partnerships don’t violate federal Medicare or other program requirements as well as the risk that the False Claims Act or other whistleblower rules will incentivize disgruntled employees or other service providers to bring aggressive conduct to the attention of federal officials.

The settlement resolves allegations made in U.S. ex rel. Stepan v. Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center Corp. et al., Civil Action No. 11-cv-572 (D.N.M.) that St. Vincent and CHRISTUS allegedly caused the State of New Mexico to present false Medicaid claims in violation of the False Claims Act by making non-bona fide donations to the State of New Mexico that New Mexico improperly used to fulfill the requirement that the State pay 25% “matching” share  to fund the New Mexico Sole Community Provider Program (SCP) between 2001 and 2009.

Under the now defunct SCP Program, federal law required that New Mexico fund 25% of the costs of the SCP program to qualify for reimbursement from the federal government for approximately 75 percent of its health care expenditures under the SCP program. Under federal law, New Mexico’s 25 percent “matching” share of SCP program payments had to consist of state or county funds, and not impermissible “donations” from private hospitals. Congress enacted this restriction on the use of private hospital funds to satisfy state Medicaid obligations to curb possible abuses and ensure that states have sufficient incentive to curb rising Medicaid costs.

The charges resolved by the settlement originally were brought in a qui tam lawsuit filed by a former Los Alamos County, New Mexico Indigent Healthcare Administrator .  The whistleblower will receive $2.249 million as her share of the recovery in this case.

The prosecution and its settlement drive home both the importance for States receiving Medicaid funds and private health care partners providing services to patients reimbursed by these funds to use care to comply with all applicable program requirements, as well as the continuing risk of exposure and resulting liability from whistleblower claims brought by unhappy employees or others looking to use their knowledge of questionable conduct to realize profitable recoveries.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Ms. Stamer works with health industry and related businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (214) 452-8297.

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