The nation’s largest hospice provider, South Florida-based Vitas, bilked Medicare by charging for people who were not terminally ill and sending “crisis care” bills for patients that nurses said were at church, bingo or the beauty parlor, federal officials allege.
One Florida patient was “nonresponsive” yet also somehow walking in company records, according to a 51-page complaint that the U.S. Department of Justice filed under the False Claims Act.
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In an investigative report last year, The Palm Beach Post analyzed data showing local Vitas patients were staying on average 40 percent longer than those at non-profit competitors licensed in Palm Beach County. That meant higher bills for taxpayers. Such patients were less likely to have cancer and other fatal illnesses traditionally associated with hospice and more likely to have conditions such as dementia, The Post found. The newspaper also showed hospice services were being marketed at assisted-living facilities as a service for people who might not necessarily die — or even get better — though federal law requires a diagnosis of six months or less to live.