CHRISTUS group to pay $12.24 million to settle medicaid false claims act allegations

ALBUQUERQUE – CHRISTUS St. Vincent Regional Medical Center (St. Vincent) and its partner, CHRISTUS Health (CHRISTUS), have agreed to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by making illegal donations to county governments, which were used to fund the state share of Medicaid payments to the hospital, the Department of Justice announced today.  Under the settlement agreement, St. Vincent and CHRISTUS have agreed to pay $12.24 million, plus interest.  St. Vincent is located in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  CHRISTUS is based in Irving, Texas.

“Congress expressly intended that states and counties use their own money when seeking federal matching funds,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Using local funds provides an incentive for the counties and states to, among other things, hold down costs rather than rely on non bona-fide donations by private providers.”

New Mexico’s Sole Community Provider (SCP) program, which was discontinued in 2014, provided supplemental Medicaid funds to hospitals in mostly rural communities.  The federal government reimbursed the state of New Mexico for approximately 75 percent of its health care expenditures under the SCP program.  Under federal law, New Mexico’s 25 percent “matching” share of SCP program payments had to consist of state or county funds, and not impermissible “donations” from private hospitals.  This restriction on the use of private hospital funds to satisfy state Medicaid obligations was enacted by Congress to curb possible abuses and ensure that states have sufficient incentive to curb rising Medicaid costs.

Between 2001 and 2009, St. Vincent and CHRISTUS allegedly made non-bona fide donations and thus caused the presentment of false claims by the state of New Mexico to the federal government under the Medicaid program.

“Protecting the integrity of the Medicaid program is crucial because millions of Americans, including hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans, depend on the program for medical care and related services,” said Acting U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney for the District of New Mexico. “This case illustrates our commitment to ensuring that government funds are legally obtained and used for their intended purposes.  We will use all available civil remedies to recover the ill-gotten gains obtained by those who defraud government health care programs.”

The settlement resolves allegations originally brought in a lawsuit filed by a former Los Alamos County, New Mexico Indigent Healthcare Administrator under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, which allow private parties to bring suit on behalf of the government and to share in any recovery.  The whistleblower will receive $2.249 million as her share of the recovery in this case.

The case was handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico with assistance from the Justice Department’s Civil Division and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. 

The lawsuit is captioned U.S. ex rel. Stepan v. Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center Corp. et al., Civil Action No. 11-cv-572 (D.N.M.).  The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.