The U.S. Justice Department said False Claims Act recoveries totaled a record $2.1 billion in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, with about $1.7 billion of that coming from healthcare fraud settlements. The recoveries nearly doubled the $1.1 billion reported by the Justice Department in fiscal 2002. The largest healthcare settlements in fiscal 2003 include $641 million by HCA, $382 million by Abbott Laboratories, $280 million by AstraZeneca and $51 million by Tenet Healthcare Corp. The government has recovered $12 billion through the False Claims Act lawsuits since the Civil War-era law was revised in 1986 to strengthen the rewards for whistleblowers.
In other legal news, Western Maryland Health System agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit alleging billing irregularities at the system's two Cumberland, Md., hospitals between 1996 and 2002. Two radiology groups also named in the lawsuit agreed to pay $500,000 to resolve their portion of alleged liabilities. A 1999 False Claims Act lawsuit alleged that the hospitals and radiologists billed Medicare for high-risk procedures involving carotid artery stents without patient consent or Medicare authorization. The health system denied wrongdoing and said it settled the 4-year-old case to end the drain on its resources. -- by Mark Taylor