The U.S. attorney in Milwaukee joined a civil whistleblower lawsuit against 776-bed St. Luke's Medical Center and 263-bed Aurora Sinai Medical Center, both in Milwaukee, that alleges the hospitals broke federal law by billing Medicare for procedures which used experimental cardiac devices. Many similar cases could be filed by Monday by U.S. attorneys around the country because that's the deadline set by a federal judge. St. Luke's and Sinai Samaritan, part of 11-hospital Aurora Health Care, are among more than 130 hospitals named in a 1994 whistleblower lawsuit filed in Seattle by a former cardiac device salesman. Robert O'Keefe, chief compliance officer at Aurora, said the system hopes to reach a settlement with the government shortly. The system's senior clinical vice president defended the billing, saying, "We are confident the facts in the case will show that the hospital billings were appropriate for the medically necessary services provided."
Earlier this year, the judge in the Seattle case broke the lawsuit into multiple cases and transferred each to the district court whose jurisdiction included the hospital involved. He gave U.S. attorneys until Dec. 16 to join the cases. The U.S. Justice Department wants the cases reconsolidated, and a multidistrict panel of federal judges will hear its request in January. To date, 30 hospitals have paid the government a collective $41 million to resolve the matter, and charges against 50 hospitals have been dropped. Ray Shepard of Ober, Kaler, Grimes & Shriver in Baltimore represents 10 hospitals still facing allegations. He said more cases may yet be dismissed. -- by Mark Taylor