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Judge Orders Tuomey to Pay $237 Million for Stark and False Claims Act Violations

On September 30, 2013, Federal Judge Margaret Seymour of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina ordered South Carolina’s Tuomey Healthcare System to pay $276.8 million for violating both Stark law and False Claims Act (FCA) provisions; however, this ordered amount was subsequently reduced by $39 million to correct a clerical error. The payment order came after a May 8, 2013 jury verdict in which the jury found that Tuomey had submitted 21,730 Medicare claims which stemmed from illegal compensation arrangements with physicians to induce patient referrals to the hospital. Tuomey has already filed a motion announcing its intent to appeal to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Stark law prohibits a physician from making referrals for certain designated health services payable by Medicare to an entity with which he or she has a financial relationship (ownership, investment or compensation). As this case demonstrates, the penalties for violating the Stark law – denial of payment, civil monetary penalty (CMP) of $15,000 per service, and $100,000 CMP for each arrangement or scheme – are severe and can also lead to even more extreme penalties under the FCA. What many providers may not know is that although the requisite intent must exist under the FCA, the Stark law is a strict liability statute that does not take into account the intent of the providers involved. As such, providers should evaluate potential business arrangements, or reevaluate current business arrangements, to ensure such arrangement is not in violation of the Stark law. Moreover, when an arrangement potentially implicates the Stark law, providers should also be sure to analyze the arrangement under the Anti-Kickback statute and other applicable fraud and abuse laws.

If you would like assistance in analyzing a potential or existing business arrangement under the Stark law, including a detailed opinion of whether your arrangement qualifies as an exception to Stark, or if you have any other questions relating to the Stark law, Anti-Kickback statute, False Claims Act or other fraud and abuse laws, please contact an experienced health care attorney via phone at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com.