The former head of a hospice who allegedly used patients that weren’t terminally ill to collect millions of dollars in false Medicare and Medicaid billings was scheduled to plead guilty.
Former Horizons Hospice chief operating officer Mary Ann Stewart, 48, was indicted in Pittsburgh last year on one count of health care fraud and four counts of lying to a federal grand jury.
One of the grand jury counts was dismissed last year after a judge agreed with Stewart’s attorney that questions about whether her estranged husband stayed in hotels on the company’s dime weren’t specific enough. Stewart is still accused of three counts stemming from allegedly false or misleading answers about how her staff went about recruiting patients for the hospice, however.
Stewart’s attorney, Robert Goldman, didn’t respond to phone and email messages seeking comment in advance of Thursday afternoon’s change of plea hearing. Stewart has previously pleaded not guilty to the charges, but was scheduled to change that plea, according to online court records.
The indictment contends the alleged fraud cost the government unspecified millions of dollars from January 2008 through August 2012 at the facility in Monroeville, about 15 miles east of Pittsburgh. The indictment alleges she conspired with unnamed “others known to the grand jury,” but federal prosecutors have not said whether anyone else might be charged and have yet to file any additional charges.
Stewart had her staff admit patients who weren’t terminally ill to the hospice, so she could bill the government insurance programs for end-of-life medical services, the indictment said. Such treatment often includes pain medications and management.
Stewart was scheduled to stand trial in November and again in March after her case was reassigned to U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry after disputes over the previous judge’s pretrial rulings.
The charges against Stewart are not the first brought against an executive at the hospice.
Dr. Oliver Herndon, 44, pleaded guilty in November 2014 to submitting claims for Horizons Hospice patients who weren’t terminally ill or for services not provided.
Herndon was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison in July. That sentence is running concurrent to an 11-year federal prison sentence for supplying patients at his separate practice with so many illegal painkillers that his arrest in 2011 caused the street price of the pills to double.
In that case, Herndon acknowledged overprescribing drugs — mostly the painkillers oxycodone and oxymorphone — without a legitimate medical purpose and with health care fraud relating to his private practice.