A whistleblower lawsuit filed against DaVita HealthCare Partners recently concluded in a $389 million settlement. The kidney dialysis company agreed to settle investigations into transactions it made with doctors over the last ten years. Whistleblower lawyers at Pintas & Mullins highlight this case as an example of how average citizens can help improve American healthcare.
This suit was brought by a former DaVita employee, David Barbetta, who was a senior financial analyst in the company's mergers and acquisitions department. Barbetta filed the whistleblower lawsuit on behalf of the federal government in 2009, and will receive a substantial percentage of the $389 settlement.
DaVita operates thousands of outpatient dialysis clinics throughout the country, treating approximately 170,000 Americans. The company is accused of carrying out a complex scheme to pay doctors for referring patients to DaVita's clinics, a practice known as "kickbacks," which is illegal. Federal anti-kickback laws ensure that patients receive the best possible care from their doctors, who make their referral decisions based on the best interest of the patient and not on any financial incentives.
According to the investigations, DaVita has been paying doctors for referrals since 2005. The company's kickback scheme involved targeting physicians who treated a lot of dialysis patients and gathering information about those physicians to determine if they could be incentivized. For example, DaVita identified one physicians group to receive kickbacks because the doctors were "young and in debt."
Once physicians were identified, DaVita would offer them lucrative opportunities to refer their patients to DaVita's clinics. The company would pay physicians to perform various tasks and had them sign noncompete agreements. These agreements were contracts that forbade the doctors from sending patients to any of DaVita's competitors. These schemes took place throughout the country, in places like Central Florida and Denver, where the company is based.
Ethics Complaints Ignored
Barbetta, the whistleblower in this case, was a key witness in the government investigations. The former DaVita employee gave prosecutors e-mails, sales spreadsheets, and insider knowledge of DaVita's illegal schemes. Barbetta worked as a senior financial analyst from 2007 to 2009; during that time he frequently complained to upper management about the kickbacks and warned about the ethics of the schemes. His complaints were either ignored or drew scorn from higher-ups.
In one of the internal emails, DaVita executives explained how the "deals" with physicians were manipulated to funnel cash into their pockets in exchange for referrals. In 2009, Barbetta found another job and quit DaVita, fed up with the company's hypocrisy.
DaVita's marketing and sales tactics tout the company as a high-quality, fair, and compassionate resource for dialysis patients. Barbetta was tired of seeing these messages and having to work at the company every day, experiencing what actually happens behind closed doors. He made the decision to file a whistleblower lawsuit because, although everyone knew what was going on, no one else was willing to do anything about it.