Court Assesses $170 Million in Fines Against Two Texas Ophthalmologists For False Claims
By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On November 18, 2021, the Justice Department announced that two Texas ophthalmologists and their eye clinic must pay millions of dollars in penalties for fraudulently billing Medicare. The penalties were assessed in connection with their evaluation and treatment of glaucoma.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes assessed $170 million in penalties against the ophthalmologists and their eye clinic in Houston, Outreach Diagnostic Clinic.
A Former Employee Blew the Whistle.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the action resulted from a False Claims Act (FCA) or “qui tam” suit. The whistleblower was a former employee of the clinic. The suit alleged that between February 2006 and December 2011, the two ophthalmologists fraudulently billed the Medicare Program for single eye pressure measurement tests used to assess and treat glaucoma. In addition, the suit claimed that both physicians allegedly billed the federal health care program using an improper reimbursement code that provided a higher reimbursement than that authorized.
The clinic allegedly submitted 14,450 claims and received $807,450 in payments from Medicare during this time relating to the allegations of fraud.
Assessment of Damages and Penalties.
In March 2020, the government won a summary judgment against the Texas clinic. Read more here.
As a result, the judge assessed a treble damages penalty that amounted to $2,422,350. Additionally, Judge Hughes assessed a penalty of $11,803 for each false claim, which is the minimum penalty that could have been assessed under the current version of the statute. According to the press release issued by the DOJ, the court’s assessments resulted in a total of $170,553,350 in penalties.
To read about an ophthalmologist involved in a similar Medicare fraud scheme, click here to read one of my prior blogs.
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Health Law Weekly. “Ophthalmologists Must Pay $170 Million in Penalties.” American Health Law Association. (December 3, 2021). Web.
“Court assesses $170 million in penalties against two Houston opthalmologists.” Houston Business and Energy Blog. (November 18, 2021). Web.
Paavola, Alia. “Judge orders 2 ophthalmologists to pay $170M for false claims violations.” Becker’s Hoptial Review. (November 19, 2021). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.
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