What started as a despicable case of the gross abuse of power by a trusted physician putting profit over patient has since turned into a sickening display of greed, corruption and utter shame. After being accused of providing kickbacks to former Oakland County, Michigan cancer doctor Farid Fata in exchange for cancer referrals to drum up business, Vitas Health Corporation Midwest and its associated affiliates have agreed to pay a $200,000 settlement for their assumed unethical and unjust misdeeds.
Fata was convicted last year of Medicare fraud and is currently behind bars serving a 45-year prison sentence after intentionally misdiagnosing and mistreating countless cancer patients for the sole purpose of making himself more money. Federal officials accused Fata of providing aggressive chemotherapy to patients who did not have cancer, while also over-medicating those of his patients who did suffer from the devastating disease, all in an effort to bilk Medicare and Blue Cross/Blue Shield out of an estimated $34 million in insurance payments.
Fata pleaded guilty to the charges in 2014, also admitting to accepting kickbacks via donations to his personal charity, known as Swan For Life Cancer Foundation, by Vitas, who then received referrals for patients to seek their end-of-life services, according to U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade.
As was the case with Fata, it was a whistle-blower who alerted authorities to the payments being made by Vitas for patient referrals, which then prompted the federal investigation. Rita Dubois filed the complaint with the federal government after alleging she witnessed Vitas gain 34 new clients referred by Fata after donating roughly $16,000 to Swan For Life; Dubois previously served as the director of marketing for development for the hospice provider in Southeast Michigan. She stated the contributions were made between 2012 and 2014. Because she acted as the whistle-blower, Dubois will receive $36,000 of the $200,000 settlement, though her admirable actions far surpass any monetary payout.
However, Miami-based Vitas recently denied the allegations of any wrongdoing, claiming they settled the case simply to avoid more costly litigation. A statement made by Vitas spokesperson Kal Mistry read, “VITAS fully cooperated with the (Department of Justice) in this investigation. VITAS has meritorious defenses to the lawsuit’s claims. It decided to settle this case … to avoid the expenses associated with (whistle-blower) litigation). The settlement includes no determination or acknowledgment of wrongdoing.”
The company does not deny making the contributions to Fata’s charity, but claim they were legitimate and supported “actual charitable events.” The statement further went on to defend Vitas’ reputation, claiming “VITAS is the industry leader in hospice because its care is exemplary and its employees are extraordinary in their skills, passion and dedication. VITAS will not waver in its commitment to provide the highest quality care to the patients and families they are privileged to serve.”
Not everyone agrees. McQaude, for her part, cares most about the hospice clients and their families who have been affected by the company’s purportedly egregious actions, saying on Tuesday of this week, “Patients deserve to receive referrals based on the quality of the services provided, not based on illegal kickback arrangements between medical providers. We are working to root out practices that enrich doctors and medical businesses at the expense and potential safety of patients.”