“Patient care was never at issue, nor were billing or payment practices,” DaVita said. “We are proud of our commitment to compliance over our 15-year history.”
The Justice Department pursued the alleged violations of the anti-kickback statute based on a False Claims Act lawsuit brought by David Barbetta, a financial analyst in the company's mergers and acquisitions department.
According to the scenario laid out by the government, DaVita identified physicians and practices that served large populations of patients with kidney disease in a specific geographic area, in particular targeting ones that were “young and in debt.” DaVita then allegedly offered the physicians illegally favorable joint-ventures involving the clinics where they referred patients. The physicians also agreed not to compete with DaVita or send patients to DaVita competitors, the government said.
“When a company pays doctors and/or their practice groups for patient referrals, the company's focus is not on the patient, but on the profit to be extracted from providing services to the patient,” John Walsh, U.S. attorney for the district of Colorado, said in a news release.
Barbetta, the former employee who filed the original lawsuit in 2009, alleged that DaVita sold the physicians stakes in its facilities at below-market prices and also bought stakes in the physicians' clinics at inflated prices, according to the Phillips & Cohen, a law firm that specializes in so-called qui tam suits brought under the False Claims Act on behalf of the government.
"DaVita should exercise its power in ways that improve patient care, not in ways that lock up patient referrals for financial reasons,” Barbetta said in the news release issued by his attorneys.
Whistle-blowers are entitled to 15% to 25% of the amount they recover for the U.S. governmentarbett'a share has not been determined, the Justice Department said.
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