Federal prosecutors won't know until next spring if a massive whistle-blower Medicare fraud lawsuit against Life Care Centers of America can proceed to trial.
Lawyers for both sides met in a hearing Wednesday with U.S. District Judge Harry S. "Sandy" Mattice to review a detailed, five-page plan for sharing records, conducting depositions and reviewing expert witness information.
The case was filed in 2008 and merged with a similar 2012 lawsuit, which involves allegations by then-Life Care employees Glenda Martin and Tammie Taylor that the company provided unnecessary, often harmful, therapies to patients in its assisted living facilities to maximize Medicare billings.
Prosecutors claim the fraud reached the highest levels of the Cleveland, Tenn.-based company and was an integral part of raising profits at the private business.
Lead prosecutor Elizabeth Tonkin told Mattice Wednesday that a statistical sample of 400 patient records was being analyzed in 60-record batches by the government's medical experts.
Both sides plan to have the analysis finished by March 2014. If enough of the records show evidence of fraud, the case can proceed. No trial date has been set.
"Everyone would like to know that," Mattice told the lawyers. Once he has the sample and can review the law, he can tell prosecutors whether the case can proceed.
Simultaneously, the legal teams of at least four lawyers per side are gathering other evidence and preparing for a potential trial. The final deadline for all discovery is now August 2015 after Mattice granted the six-month extension when approving the plan.
Seated next to Tonkin at the prosecutor's table Wednesday was Assistant U.S. Attorney Andy Mao, who serves as senior counsel for health care fraud and elder abuse for the U.S. Department of Justice.
Mao worked as part of a team of lawyers who won a $3 billion judgment against GlaxoSmithKline, a large pharmaceutical company charged with illegal promotion of prescription drugs.
The lead defense attorney for Life Care, Roger Dickson, suggested that the sides set regular bi-monthly meetings to ensure that any problems with discovery can be resolved by Mattice. The judge approved that plan, the first of its kind in his tenure, he said.
Life Care has denied the claims and declined further comment since releasing a 2012 letter to employees. It has 225 facilities in 28 states.
Contact staff writer Todd South at 423-757-6347 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.