A federal judge has set a trial date of Sept. 15 for a potential billion-dollar government fraud case against Infirmary Health Systems and its subsidiaries. The jury trial is expected to proceed if the hospital cannot reach a settlement agreement with prosecutors by June 10, according to a timeline mandated by U.S. Magistrate Judge Sonja Bivens Jan. 3.
“We are satisfied with the Court’s scheduling order setting a short discovery period and a prompt trial date,” Infirmary attorney Caine O’Rear said in a statement. “Given the early stage of the case, it is premature for anyone to comment on the possibility of a trial before the Court has ruled on the pending motions to dismiss the Government’s and the Relator’s complaints. We continue to vigorously defend these allegations and look forward to their resolution this year, either way.”
The case was filed under seal in 2011 and prompted by a complaint from Dr. Christian Heesch, a former cardiologist at Infirmary subsidiary Diagnostic Physicians Group. Heesch claimed the group unlawfully billed government healthcare programs more than $521 million over a period of six years, leading to nearly $20 million in overpayments and “bonuses” to its affiliated physicians.
The federal government intervened in Heesch’s complaint last year and filed a suit claiming violations of the False Claim Act, the Stark Law and the Anti-Kickback statute. If the Infirmary is found guilty at trial, it could face punitive damages of as much as three times that amount, plus penalties of $5,000 to $10,000 for each claim falsified. Last year, False Claims Act cases in which the government intervened accounted for $2.8 billion in settlements and judgments, according to figures compiled by the Department of Justice.
The court has not ruled on a motion to dismiss filed by IHS attorneys Dec. 30.