Under the terms of a settlement agreement signed earlier this month, Dr. Nicholas L. DePace should receive approximately $2,400,000 as his portion of a settlement of the qui tam False Claims Act lawsuit he filed in 2008. In addition, defendant Cooper Health System agreed to pay $430,000 to the law firm that represented Dr. DePace in the qui tam action.
The essence of the 60 page complaint filed by Dr. DePace is that Cooper Health System made improper payments to physicians to induce referrals by recruiting high volume referring physicians and paying them $18,000 annually to sit on its heart institute advisory board formed in 2002. According to the complaint, the advisory board was staffed with two categories of members: physicians employed by the Health System or related entities and local physicians who were recruited to the board to advise the heart institute. Dr. DePace was employed by one of the Health System related entities for slightly more than five months in 2007 and alleged that he served as an advisor to the heart institute during 2007 and 2008.
In his complaint filed in 2008, Dr. DePace alleged that the only responsibility required of the advisory members was attendance at bi-monthly meetings of the board which were to last approximately 17 hours each. According to the complaint, although the function of the advisory board was to provide advice to the heart institute, the selection process for recruiting members to the board was governed by the volume of new business the member could provide regardless of the member’s academic credentials or professional experience. The complaint recites in great detail the agendas at several meetings (largely unrelated to cardiology), the five-star cuisine served at one such meeting, and the duration of the meetings which allegedly fell far short of the 17 hours mentioned. The complaint calculates that the advisors were paid in excess of $550/hour to attend these meetings and were required to attend only four such meetings a year to earn their $18,000 in advisory compensation.
The complaint estimated that from the formation of the advisory board in 2002 until the complaint was filed in 2008, Cooper Health System paid at least $2,268,000 in illegal kickbacks in the form of advisory fees. According to the complaint, these payments allowed Cooper Health System to “lock-in” valuable referrals from general practitioners and cardiologist and solidify dominance in the healthcare market in southern New Jersey.
The total amount to be paid by Cooper Health System under the terms of the settlement agreement was in excess of $12 million. The settlement agreement does not constitute an admission of liability by Cooper Health System or a concession by the United States or Dr. DePace that any of the claims were not well founded.
If you have questions regarding OIG settlements please contact Greg Montgomery.