4 duped firms agree to pay Medicare

They'll pay $250,000 over fraudulent therapist

February 25, 2000|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Four health-care companies have agreed to pay Medicare more than $250,000 in damages arising from their employment of a clever fraud artist who duped them into believing she was a licensed physical therapist, federal prosecutors said yesterday.

The companies, three in Maryland and one in Florida, hired Diane Cannon even though she never received formal medical training and had no physical therapy license, court papers said. She used phony names and references to land the jobs.

"Home health agencies as well as all other health-care providers have to be responsible for the actions of their employees," said Maryland U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia. "They have to assure the public that their employees are properly credentialed and trained."

Cannon, 33, of Laurel and her ex-husband, Anthony Cannon, 38, pleaded guilty last year in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to federal charges of health-care fraud and tax evasion. Diane Cannon is serving a six-month prison sentence, and Anthony Cannon is serving 24 months.

The home health-care companies that agreed to pay damages for Diane Cannon's false billings are HomeCall Inc. of Frederick, which agreed to pay $173,539; Interim Health Care Inc. of Florida, $45,330; Bon Secours Home Health and Hospice of Baltimore, $20,250; and MGH Community Health Inc. of Rockville, $14,520.

Each of the companies has also entered into corporate integrity agreements with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that require safeguards in hiring and credentialing employees, prosecutors said.

HomeCall, the company paying the majority of the settlements, contended in court papers that it "has legally recognized defenses to each of the potential allegations and that it complied with the law and was itself the victim of fraudulent conduct."

Gretchen Murdza, the chief executive officer of HomeCall, called Cannon's actions "abhorrent."

"HomeCall has a rigorous credentialing process in place, but even this did not uncover Ms. Cannon's fraudulent scheme," Murdza said. "We worked cooperatively with the government to stop her."

Each of the four companies entered into settlement agreements that do not admit guilt but agree to "resolve any claims" the government could make.

Diane Cannon and her husband impersonated physical therapists between 1993 and 1997. During that time, Medicare and several private insurers paid more than $250,000 to reimburse health-care companies for the Cannons' purported physical therapy services, according to a sentencing memorandum submitted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Virginia B. Evans.

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