Complaint about methadone provider leads to false claims settlement

The Hartford Dispensary, which operates nine methadone clinics in Connecticut, including one each in New London and Norwich, has agreed to pay the government $627,000 to resolve whistleblower allegations that the dispensary made false representations between 2009 and 2015 that it had a qualified medical director.

The dispensary listed as its medical director James Edward O'Brien, a longtime dispensary physician now in his 80s who no longer practices medicine, according to a court document.

United States Attorney Deirdre M. Daly and state Attorney General George Jepsen issued news releases Thursday indicating the Hartford Dispensary and its former chief executive officer, Paul McLaughlin, have jointly paid $627,000 to resolve allegations they violated the federal and state False Claims Acts.

The investigation began after two former employees of the dispensary, Russell Buchner and Charles Hatheway, filed a whistleblower complaint in U.S. District court under the provisions of the federal and state False Claims Acts. They will receive and split their share of the settlement — $112,860 — as required by law.

The clinics dispense the medication methadone, an opioid replacement therapy, to about 5,000 people statewide. To be certified as an opioid treatment provider, or OTP, the organization must designate a medical director who is responsible for administering all medical services and ensuring compliance with federal, state and local laws and regulations.

The government alleges that Hartford Dispensary and McLaughlin made repeated false representations and false certifications to federal and state authorities that Hartford Dispensary had a medical director, as defined by relevant regulations, who was performing the duties and responsibilities required by federal and state law. The government further alleges that these false representations and certifications were material to false or fraudulent claims submitted to the Medicaid program.

"Health care providers must be completely honest when certifying information to the government, and the failure to do so will have serious consequences," Daly stated. "The U.S. Attorney's office is committed to vigorously pursuing health care providers who make false representations to federal health care programs."

"Medicaid providers are required to comply with the applicable rules of the program and to certify honestly their compliance," Jepsen said. "I'm grateful to our state and federal partners for their continued cooperation and coordination as we work to protect our taxpayer-funded (health care) programs."

The case was investigated by the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard M. Molot and Auditor Kevin Saunders, and by Assistant Attorneys General Michael Cole and Gregory O'Connell of the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General.

People who suspect health care fraud are encouraged to report it by calling 1 (800) HHS-TIPS or the Health Care Fraud Task Force at (203) 777-6311.

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