The U.S. attorney's office has intervened in a whistleblower lawsuit filed against a South Florida company accused of putting at least seven doctors' wives and a physician's boyfriend on its payroll to induce the physicians to refer Medicare patients for home health care services.
After A Plus Home Health Care began paying the wives and boyfriend wages for little or no work, Medicare payments to the company ballooned to $6.6 million a year in 2011, according to a statement by the U.S. attorney's office in Miami. That was a sixfold increase from $1.1 million the company received in 2005 before the spouses and boyfriend began collecting checks.
A Plus owner Tracy Nemerofsky "generated sham personnel files, which included lists of job duties the spouses and boyfriend did not perform and performance reviews of job functions they did not complete, to give the false impression that the spouses and boyfriend were legitimate employees," according to the U.S. attorney's office.
"We will not relent in our efforts to combat fraudulent kickback schemes, such as the no-show jobs scheme used in this case, and return dollars to the Medicare program," Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said in a written statement. "These schemes are classic examples of the fraud and abuse that plague and threaten the financial stability of Medicare, which provides much needed services to the sick and elderly."
Nemerofsky on Friday denied the charges, saying the company, which has one office each in Palm Beach County and Broward, has "legitimate employees" and provides high-quality service. "We work really hard to put our patients first," she said in a telephone interview.
"A Plus enjoys a great reputation," said the company's attorney, Jacqueline Arango, a former federal prosecutor who is now a shareholder in the Akerman Senterfitt law firm.
Arango and Nemerofsky blamed the lawsuit on a disgruntled former employee they believe is now living out of the country.
Nemerofsky and A Plus are named in the lawsuit filed by former development director, William Guthrie, under whistleblower provisions of the federal False Claims Act. Guthrie's attorney, Gary J. Rotella, said his client wanted to bring relief to taxpayers. "This [case] will unfold in a most interesting fashion," he said in a voicemail.
Whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act allow private parties to sue on behalf of the government and receive a share of any recovery.
The act also authorizes the government to intervene in and assume primary responsibility for litigating the lawsuit, as the U.S. attorney's office did Friday.
The government previously settled with two of the couples that accepted payments from A Plus Home Health Care.
But Arango, the attorney for A Plus, said the couples settled "for very minimal amounts.
"They settled to get out off what is going to be very costly litigation," Arango said.
Staff researcher Barbara Hijeck contributed to this report.
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