Following on the heels of a number of recent False Claims Act (“FCA”) cases alleging that patients were not eligible to receive hospice services (Good Shepherd Hospice Inc., Guardian Hospice of Georgia LLC, Hospice of Arizona, L.C. and Altus Healthcare & Hospice Inc., to name a few), the U.S. attorney for the District of Colorado just completed an $18 million dollar settlement with UnitedHealth Group Inc. affiliate, OptumHealth LLC.

The settlement follows the DOJ’s 2014 intervention in two whistleblower-initiated FCA suits. The whistleblowers, and eventually the DOJ, alleged that the hospice defrauded Medicare by billing services for hospice patients who were not terminally ill. The DOJ had alleged that the Hospice’s practices reportedly discouraged doctors from recommending that ineligible patients be removed from hospice and failed to monitor that nurses were accurately recording patients’ conditions in medical records.

As usage of the hospice benefit continues to increase at a rapid pace, investigations of whether or not patient eligibility is determined to be appropriate are going to continue. Additionally, the DOJ’s success in investigating and settling FCA cases relating to hospice eligibility issues translates into continued enforcement efforts in this area. Providers should focus their compliance efforts on this important risk area and ensure that they are conducted period auditing and monitoring of patient eligibility and physician certifications for hospice care.