Ex-auditor claims Lee Health inflated physician pay to drive referrals

A former auditor at Fort Myers, Fla.-based Lee Health has filed a federal lawsuit alleging the health system paid certain physicians inflated salaries in exchange for patient referrals, according to the Fort Myers News-Press.

In her lawsuit, Angela D'Anna, Lee Health's former head internal auditor, alleges the six- and seven-figure salaries some physicians received were partially based on medical care provided by physician assistants and nurses. The physicians were allegedly paid for treatments provided by the nurses and PAs when the physicians were not at the hospital, according to the report.

The lawsuit explains why Lee Health allegedly paid "key referring physicians" more.

"Reducing physician compensation could reduce hospital profits because the physician referrals could go down," the lawsuit states. "Lee [Health] was not willing to take that risk."

A Lee Health spokesperson told the Fort Myers News-Press the lawsuit lacks merit.

"The allegations in the lawsuit reflect a fundamental misunderstanding by Lee Health's former Director of Internal Audit of how Lee Health compensates physicians," the spokesperson said. "Our physicians are paid fairly for their hard work and consistent with what the law allows."

Ms. D'Anna's lawsuit, which was filed under the whistle-blower provision of the False Claims Act, claims the improper physician payments were made between 2005 and 2014. Lee Health has asked the court to dismiss the case.

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