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Chemed sued over Medicare services

Its Vitas Hospice unit is accused of false billing.

Chemed Corp., the largest for-profit provider of hospice care in the United States, was accused by the U.S. government Friday of false billing for Medicare services.

Based in Cincinnati, Chemed is a holding company that also owns Roto-Rooter plumbing services.

The U.S. filed a lawsuit in federal court in Missouri, claiming Chemed's Vitas Hospice units knowingly billed the government's Medicare program for crisis-care services that were not necessary, were not provided, or were not performed as required, the Justice Department said. Crisis-care services are billed at the highest daily rate for Medicare patients and are intended for brief periods to treat urgent symptoms of worsening health.

Too often, "we hear reports of companies that abuse this critical service by using aggressive marketing tactics to push patients into services they don't need in order to get higher reimbursements," Stuart Delery, acting assistant attorney general for the department's civil division, said in the statement. Medicare is the U.S.-backed health program for the elderly.

In a statement on its website, Chemed denied the allegations and said the company and Vitas "have made significant investments in controls, systems and procedures to uphold the highest industry standards and to maintain compliance with all regulatory requirements."

Vitas Hospice, which has inpatient and stand-alone facilities, has operations in 18 states, including Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Blue Bell, Darby Borough, Sharon Hill, and Pittsburgh), New Jersey (Stratford, Mount Laurel, Livingston, and Shrewsbury), and Delaware (Newark and Milford).

The health-care business generated revenue of about $271 million in the first three months of 2013, about three-quarters of the company's total, Chemed said on April 18.