Whistleblower accuses Bismarck clinic of kickback schemes

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The former CEO of a North Dakota clinic filed a whistleblower lawsuit accusing the facility of participating in kickback schemes that cost the federal government millions of dollars in fraudulent Medicare and Medicaid claims.

Jeffrey Neuberger alleges in his lawsuit that doctors from Bismarck’s Mid Dakota Clinic, P.C. and its building partnership boosted their salaries by referring patients to the clinic’s ambulatory surgical center, because they all shared in the profits of that center.

The document says Mid Dakota Clinic had a similar kickback arrangement with another physician group in Bismarck.

Neuberger “repeatedly heard and observed MDC surgeons routinely discussing the fact that they received referrals from their primary care or non-surgical physician shareholders at MDC,” the complaint says.

“The scheme is straightforward,” it reads, and the government would not have paid the claims had it known about the kickbacks. The doctors “knew full well” that every referral would raise their salaries, which were above the national averages, the complaint says.

The complaint also accuses the clinic’s board of directors of denying three doctors the chance to invest in the company unless they produced more business, which they did in part by referrals to Mid Dakota Clinic doctors and procedures in the surgical center.

Neuberger, who ran the company from April 2007 until January 2013, filed the suit in January 2017 and it was unsealed last month.

Mid Dakota Clinic has not filed a response, and lawyers for Neuberger and Mid Dakota Clinic did not immediately respond to phone messages.

Federal anti-kickback laws are intended to prevent abuses that occur when a person profits from a patient referral, or by ordering unnecessary procedures. There is no indication in the suit that patients were referred for treatment they didn’t need.

Mid Dakota Clinic began trying to sell the business in 2013. The suit says Catholic Health Initiatives, a large hospital chain that owns St. Alexius hospital in Bismarck, showed interest but told Mid Dakota it was worried that the clinic’s ownership structure allowed for kickbacks.

The suit asks for a civil penalty of $11,000 for each violation of the federal False Claims Act alleged to have happened before Nov. 2, 2015, and a $21,563 fine for each violation after that date. That includes every allegedly illegally submitted invoice.

In a separate document, the government declined its opportunity to intervene in the complaint, saying Neuberger and Mid Dakota Clinic are “far along in settlement negotiations.”

A status hearing by telephone is scheduled Oct. 30.