An owner of an Illinois hospice company was charged with federal health care fraud for allegedly engaging in an extensive scheme to obtain higher Medicare and Medicaid payments by fraudulently elevating the level of hospice care for patients, many of whom resided at nursing homes he also controlled across the state. In many instances, the level of hospice care allegedly exceeded what was medically necessary or actually provided, including for some patients who did not have terminal illnesses or who were enrolled far longer―sometimes for several years―than the required life expectancy of six months or less.
The defendant, Seth Gillman, 46, of Lincolnwood, was charged with one count each of health care fraud and obstructing a federal audit in a criminal complaint that was filed late Friday in U.S. District Court. He is scheduled to appear at 3 p.m. today before Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown in federal court.
Gillman, an attorney, is the corporate agent, administrator, and one-fourth owner of Passages Hospice LLC, based in west suburban Lisle, and is also the agent and secretary of Asta Healthcare Company Inc., which operates Asta Care Center nursing homes in Bloomington, Colfax, Elgin, Ford County, Pontiac, Rockford, and Toluca, Illinois. Passages did not have its own inpatient facility but instead deployed nurses to visit hospice patients in nursing homes and private residences. As Passages grew, it divided its operations into geographic regions covering Chicago and the western suburbs, Rockford, Bloomington, and Belleville, with different nurses, nursing directors, and medical directors for each region.
The charges allege that between August 2008 and January 2012, Gillman trained and caused to be trained Passages nurses to look for signs that allegedly would qualify a hospice patient for general inpatient care (GIP), resulting in higher payments per day, compared to routine care. Gillman allegedly knew that many of Passages’ patients were improperly being placed on GIP, in part as a result of a 2009 review of patient files, a 2009 report by an outside consultant, and a 2010 internal audit. Gillman also knew that some patients were placed on GIP without a medical director’s approval.
In fiscal year 2012, Medicare’s daily reimbursement for GIP was $671.84, while the daily payment for routine care was $151.23. According to claims data, from January 2006 to late 2011, Passages submitted claims for approximately 4,769 patients to Medicare and/or Medicaid and was paid approximately $95 million from Medicare and approximately $30 million from Medicaid. Between July 2008 and late 2011, Passages was paid approximately $23 million by Medicare for claimed GIP services, in addition to Medicaid payments for claimed GIP services submitted on behalf of more than 200 patients.
According to a 69-page affidavit in support of the charges, federal agents have interviewed patients, family members, and more than 30 former and current employees of Passages, including several who reported allegedly fraudulent billing and marketing practices to Medicare and/or law enforcement before they were contacted by agents. Investigators have also reviewed e-mails, documents, and patient files that were obtained in response to a 2011 civil investigative demand, a January 2012 search warrant, and subpoenas issued in 2013, as well as claims data from Medicare and Medicaid.
Medicare claims data revealed that approximately 22 percent of Passages’ patients between 2006 and late 2011 had more than six months of hospice care, with 28 patients receiving more than 1,000 days of hospice care in that period. By contrast, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, only 11.8 percent of all hospice patients in 2009 were on hospice care for longer than six months.
For example, the complaint affidavit cites Patient JW, who was admitted to an Asta nursing home in 2003 following a major stroke, and Passages billed for more than 2,000 days of hospice services. In another example, Passages submitted bills for 1,443 days of hospice care for Patient LJ, who was admitted to an Asta nursing home in 2001. Patient LJ’s son told investigators that his mother appeared in no danger of dying until the last month of her life.
The charges also cite Medicare claims data showing that Passages’ billing for GIP services grew significantly. In 2010, Passages billed approximately 1,161 GIP patient days to Medicare monthly, and the figure rose to 1,430 GIP patient days a month through the first nine months of 2011. The average GIP payments that Passages received per month was $4,437 in the period from mid-2006 to mid-2008, and the monthly payments increased to $946,743 in 2011.
A hospice physician retained by the government reviewed files for 13 Passages patients, 10 of whose admissions exceed six months and extended to as many as 1,598 days over two admission periods. The government’s expert found that nine of the 13 patients were not eligible for Medicare hospice benefits for part or all of their admission and that all the 503 days of GIP submitted for those patients were improper and excessive.
A woman, identified as Individual E in the affidavit, who helped Gillman and his father start Passages and served as its clinical director for several years until she was fired told agents that Gillman said if a patient was under Passages’ care, they were sick enough to warrant GIP care. When Individual E confronted Gillman over the GIP eligibility of Patient DB, Gillman allegedly told her to mind her own business because he needed the money, the affidavit states.
The charges further allege that in the fall of 2008, Gillman began paying bonuses, sometimes well in excess of their salary, to Passages’ directors overseeing nurses and certified nursing assistants based on the amount of GIP under their supervision. Gillman also authorized large bonuses to himself and a co-administrator, Individual A, based on the number of patients per day at certain nursing homes in the Belleville region, including $833,375 to himself between March 2009 and April 2011. The bonuses increased as the number of patients on GIP increased and as the number of facilities counted for the bonuses increased, according to the affidavit.
Passages also allegedly had arrangements with approximately eight nursing homes in 2010 in which it paid the nursing homes $250 for every patient who was on GIP per day.
The obstructing a federal audit count alleges that in August and September 2009, Gillman, Individual A, and others oversaw and conducted an effort to alter patient files that had been requested by TrustSolutions, which contracted with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to audit providers for fraud and abuse. Several former Passages employees have admitted to agents their involvement in the altering of patient files in the summer of 2009 as well as in another session in 2010, the affidavit states.
The charges were announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Lamont Pugh, III, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Regional Office of the HHS-OIG; and Robert J. Holley, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office is also participating in the investigation.
The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen C. Lee.
Health care fraud carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and obstructing a federal audit carries a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and restitution is mandatory. If convicted, the court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.
The public is reminded that a complaint is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
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