LUBBOCK, Texas — On Tuesday, a federal judge partially unsealed a lawsuit against Covenant Health in which Dr. Howard Beck made allegations of Medicare and Medicaid fraud.
In September 2016, Beck filed a Qui Tam lawsuit against Covenant. Qui Tam is a fancy legal term that means he is entitled to get a portion of the money if Covenant is ordered to pay back the federal government.
On Monday, the federal government declined to intervene, but federal officials must be notified and give consent before the lawsuit can be dismissed. Federal officials are entitled to see all documents filed in the lawsuit, court records said.
Most of the documents remain sealed and cannot be viewed by the public. The original complaint, however, is now open. CLICK HERE to read the complaint.
“Dr. Beck’s lawsuit alleges that the St. Joseph Health System, the Covenant Health System, the Covenant Medical Center and the Covenant Medical Group committed fraud by submitting claims in excess amounts,” a statement from Becks’ attorney said.
The statement also said, “The lawsuit then states the defendants [Covenant Health] collected those monies for the purpose of perpetuating a kickback scheme that violates the law by insuring that select Covenant Medical Group doctors received compensation in excess of the national norm for their specialties.”
A specific dollar figure was not listed, but the lawsuit said “millions” of dollars are at stake.
The statement also said a similar lawsuit against a hospital in Seminole was successful and recovered millions of dollars for taxpayers.
Covenant has not yet filed a response in court records. EverythingLubbock.com reached out to Covenant to invite comment. We do expect a response and will provide an update when possible.
The original lawsuit was filed in California where Covenant’s parent organization, St. Joseph Health System is located.
Attorneys for the federal government, right from the start, requested that the lawsuit be sealed, according to the court’s docket report. On Monday, federal officials asked that the case be unsealed.
The docket also showed the lawsuit was moved from California to Texas in February 2017.
The full statement from Dr. Beck’s attorney is copied below.
On September 24, 2019, the Qui Tam lawsuit filed by Dr. Howard Beck, a Lubbock urologist, against, among others, Covenant Hospital, was unsealed in Lubbock Federal Court. Dr. Beck’s lawsuit, brought in the name of the U.S. government, seeks to recover billions of dollars of improper Medicare and Medicaid claims paid by the government.
Dr. Beck’s lawsuit alleges that the St. Joseph Health System, the Covenant Health System, the Covenant Medical Center and the Covenant Medical Group committed fraud by submitting claims in excess amounts. The lawsuit then states the defendants collected those monies for the purpose of perpetuating a kickback scheme that violates the law by insuring that select Covenant Medical Group doctors received compensation in excess of the national norm for their specialties. In addition, the suit asserts that the defendants control the patient referral system so that patients in need of medical care are only seen by Covenant Medical Group physicians, guaranteeing higher Medicare and Medicaid claims are paid for the benefit of the defendants, and to the detriment of taxpayers.
Gaines West, Dr. Beck’s lawyer, said that the suit has been on file for several years, but was only unsealed on Tuesday, September 24, 2019 so that it could proceed. West promised a vigorous prosecution of these claims for the benefit of the federal government and all taxpayers.
West said a very similar Qui Tam action was recently settled by the government involving the Seminole Hospital District in Gaines County, Texas. The taxpayers got millions back where that Hospital District was sanctioned for overcompensating their physicians.