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Senators say home care companies overbooked care

Mon, 10/03/2011 - 8:45am
The Associated Press

Senate investigators are accusing three of the nation's biggest home care providers of deliberately increasing their visits to patients to get higher payments from the government's Medicare program.

A report released Monday by the Senate Finance committee lays out more than a half-dozen strategies used by executives at Amedisys, LHC Group and Gentiva to increase home care, even when patients may not have required extra attention. Staffers for Senators Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, reviewed internal documents by the companies.

"Elderly patients in the Medicare system should not be used as pawns to increase a company's profits," Baucus said in a statement. "Especially in these tough economic times, taxpayers simply cannot afford for their dollars to be wasted on unnecessary care."

Grassley said the government must "fix the policy that lets Medicare money flow down the drain."

The company records show caregivers targeted their number of visits to trigger bonus payments from Medicare. In one case, a company tasked a special team of workers to develop the most profitable treatment regimens possible.

The government program provides health coverage to more than 47 million seniors. The program spends $19 billion on home care annually, according to the report.

Shares of home care providers fell in trading Monday. Baton Rouge, La.-based Amedisys Inc. fell 71 cents, or 4.8 percent, to $14.11. The stock is down 58 percent in the year to date. The company said in a statement it was "disappointed with the committee's conclusions" and stands by its "integrity, ethics and patient care practices."

Shares of Atlanta-based Gentiva Health Services Inc. fell 66 cents, or 12 percent, to $4.86 in trading. It has declined 82 percent in the year to date.

And shares of LHC Group Inc. fell 80 cents, or 4.7 percent, to $16.26. Since the start of the year, the stock has shed 46 percent of its value. On Friday, the Lafayette, La., company announced it would pay $65 million to settle a civil inquiry with the federal government over whether some government-reimbursed patient care was medically necessary. Under the agreement, LHC did not admit wrongdoing and said it still disputes the claims.

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