Hospital pays $2.3M in lawsuit alleging favoritism

The University of Illinois Hospital has paid $2.3 million to settle a lawsuit that charged it and two other school-affiliated hospitals with manipulating patients’ diagnoses to get them new livers. The whistle-blower suit, originally brought by transplant specialist Raymond Pollak, MD, in 1999, alleged that the hospitals diagnosed patients as sicker than they were to boost the number of transplants performed at the institutions and qualify them for government reimbursement programs. Federal and state prosecutors recently announced that the University of Chicago Hospitals and Northwestern Memorial Hospital had paid fines of $115,000 and $23,587, respectively, to settle the suit without admitting or denying guilt.

After saying it would fight the lawsuit, which involved four transplant patients between 1996 and 1998, the University of Illinois Hospital approved the settlement, which does not require it to admit or deny guilt. Pollak received a quarter of the settlement proceeds, and his lawyers were paid nearly $300,000 by the university. The $2.3 million settlement by the hospital was seen as a victory by prosecutors.

Patrick Fitzgerald, JD, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, released a statement saying, "This settlement for twice the amount of actual damages sends a clear message to health care providers that they will be held accountable for defrauding government payment programs. By falsely diagnosing patients and placing them in intensive care to make them appear more sick than they were, patients eligible for liver transplants were placed ahead of others who were waiting for organs in the transplant region."

The University of Illinois Hospital confirms the settlement amount, underscoring that the agreement does not include any admission of guilt. The hospital also confirms that the physician is continuing a separate legal action alleging he was improperly forced out of his position.

"The medical center disputes all the allegations and claims made in the government’s complaint in the civil action," the hospital’s statement says. "With respect to the legal actions filed by one of our faculty members related to his employment, these are allegations only, and the university intends to contest them vigorously in court. As a matter of policy, the university does not discuss underlying personnel issues in public, nor respond to litigation except through the legal process."