Fed steps in cardiology-imaging kickback suit

The federal government has decided to join in the fray in a cardiologist’s whistleblower case that alleges kickbacks for unnecessary nuclear imaging tests.

Christian Heesch, MD, an interventional cardiologist and a former Diagnostic Physicians Group (DPG) physician, filed a lawsuit in 2011 against DPG and Infirmary Health System in Mobile, Ala., under the False Claims Act. Heesch’s filing included seven counts that charged illegal referrals and false and fraudulent claims that exceeded $521 million in billings to Medicare, Medicaid and other payers.

The suit claims that DPM physicians were improperly paid compensation “that included a percentage of the money collected from Medicare for tests and procedures the doctors referred to the clinic,” the Justice Department wrote. “These improper payments, and resulting submission of false claims to the Medicare program, violated the Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute.”

According to the lawsuit, Heesch charged that starting in 2008, he voiced concerns about excessive ordering of nuclear imaging studies, “many of which were not medically necessary and in fact, subjected patients to unnecessary danger through radiation exposure.” He claimed that in 2011 his employment was terminated in retaliation.

He has asked for a jury trial. The federal government announced July 8 that it was intervening and taking over the suit, as is allowed in a whistleblower case.