A former employee of a mobile ophthalmic company blew the whistle on kickbacks being paid to potential doctor-clients. Sightpath Medical Inc., TLC Vision Corporation and their former CEO have agreed to pay $12 million to resolve the allegations, and the whistleblower will receive 19.5 percent of that settlement -- or $2,340,000. The U.S. Government also intervened in an underlying lawsuit against the Cameron Ehlen Group, d/b/a Precision Lens, and its owner.
Between 2006 and 2015, according to the allegations, Sightpath's CEO at the time arranged for a number of luxury vacations for doctors who might refer patients. These included skiing, fishing, hunting and golf vacations. He also set up lucrative consulting agreements between Sightpath and physicians or their practices, but these involved services that either never were performed or were improperly documented.
The luxury trips were considered kickbacks to the physicians, and they allegedly greatly expanded the amount Sightpath earned from government health programs including Medicare. Such situations are often considered fraud actionable under the False Claims Act, although Sightpath has admitted no wrongdoing in the case.
"Medicare beneficiaries depend on their physicians to make decisions based on sound medical judgment," said the assistant U.S. Attorney involved in the case. "Our office will take decisive action to address allegations that medical providers are receiving improper financial benefits that could influence medical decisionmaking."
In addition to paying the $12-million settlement, Sightpath will enter into a five-year "corporate integrity agreement" as part of its settlement with the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Minnesota says this is the third major False Claims Act case his office has resolved in the past three months.