Lakeland Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in Lakeland, Florida, has agreed to pay the United States $4 million to resolve allegations that it made donations to a local unit of government to improperly fund the state’s share of Medicaid payments to LRMC.
The Florida Medicaid program provides medical assistance to low-income individuals and individuals with disabilities, and is jointly funded by the federal and state governments. Under federal law, Florida’s share of Medicaid payments must consist of state or local government funds, and may not come from “non-bona fide donations” from private health care providers, such as hospitals. A non-bona fide donation is a payment — in cash or in kind — from a private provider to a governmental entity that is then returned to the private provider through a payment by Medicaid. Because Medicaid services are reimbursed jointly by the federal and state governments, a non-bona fide donation causes federal expenditures to increase without any corresponding increase in state expenditures, since the state share of the Medicaid payments to the provider comes from and is returned to the provider. The prohibition of this practice ensures that states are in fact paying a share of Medicaid payments and thus have an incentive to curb Medicaid costs and prevent unnecessary services.
The United States alleged that, between October 2014 and September 2015, LRMC made improper, non-bona fide donations to Polk County, Florida by assuming and paying certain of Polk County’s financial obligations to other healthcare providers. These donations were designed to increase Medicaid payments received by LRMC, by freeing up funds for the County to make payments to the State as the state share of Medicaid payments to LRMC. This state share was “matched” by the federal government before being returned to LRMC as Medicaid payments. The Medicaid payments LRMC received were thus funded by the federal government and LRMC’s own donations, in violation of the prohibition on non-bona fide donations.
“When private parties make improper donations to fund the state share of Medicaid, they undermine a key safeguard for ensuring the integrity of the Medicaid program,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Medicaid expenditures should be determined by beneficiaries’ medical needs rather than by donations by private hospitals to local units of government.”
“Protecting the Medicaid program is crucial, as millions of Floridians rely on it for their medical care and related services,” said U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg for the Middle District of Florida. “We are committed to ensuring that government funds are used for their intended purposes and are not improperly obtained.”
The resolution obtained in this matter was the result of a coordinated effort between the Justice Department’s Civil Division, Commercial Litigation Branch, Fraud Section, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, with assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.
The matter was handled by Fraud Section Attorneys Alison B. Rousseau and Jonathan T. Thrope and Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn B. Tapie.
The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.