Settlement reached in lawsuit against medical practice

By Chris Vessell bio | email

OPELIKA, AL (WTVM) - A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit against a medical practice in Lee County. The Heart Center of East Alabama has agreed to pay $231,000 to settle allegations that it violated the False Claims Act.

The lawsuit has to do with Cardiac stress tests conducted at the Heart Center of East Alabama between 2003 and 2006. The Department of Justice alleges that the Opelika practice falsely represented to the government that the tests were directly supervised by a physician as required by Medicare regulations.

From 2003 to 2006, the practice rented space from the East Alabama Medical Center on Pepperell Parkway in Opelika, according to a spokesman with the hospital. Since then, the practice joined a group of physicians by another name. The practice recently branched off again, and now goes by the name The Heart Center located on Champions Blvd in Auburn.

"The Heart Center feels very strongly that they did not do anything wrong and they continue not to do anything wrong," Brian Moore, the practice's attorney said. The Heart Center's attorney says Dr. John Mitchell and Dr. Kevin Ryan were physicians at the medical practice at the time. On Tuesday, the physicians referred all questions to their attorney.

"Rather than fighting the allegations over months long litigation, it was determined to resolve the allegations in the amount the department of justice set forth in their statement," Moore said. In all, The Heart Center will be required to pay the government $231,000. Two former employees will receive a share of the settlement as well.

The U.S. Department of Justice is applauding the work of two former employees who initially filed the suit against The Heart Center of East Alabama. "This settlement demonstrates that the Department of Justice will not tolerate fraud and abuse of government programs," U.S. Attorney Leura G. Canary said in a statement. "It also illustrates the important role that private citizens may have in bringing fraud to the attention of the government through the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act," she added.