The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland has announced that St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson Maryland will pay $22 million to settle allegations that it violated the federal False Claims Act, the federal anti-kickback statute and Stark by entering into several improper professional services contracts with a cardiology group, MidAtlantic Cardiovascular Associates that involved the payment of illegal remuneration.

The DOJ alleged that St. Joseph paid kickbacks to the cardiology group through sham professional services agreements between 1996 and 2006. Specifically, the parties had entered into 11 professional services agreements which involved payments above fair market value, and/or payments for services that were either not rendered or not commercially reasonable.

Importantly, the settlement was the result of a qui tam whistleblower lawsuit brought by a group of cardiac surgeons who alleged that the service agreements were in violation of federal law. 

This settlement underscores the importance of ensuring that all financial relationships between physicians and hospitals to which they refer, including medical directorships, call coverage arrangements, rental arrangements and the like are for legitimate and necessary items/services and that payments are consistent with fair market value.