OKLAHOMA - Our state’s largest ambulance service provider is being accused of accepting illegal kickbacks.
Emergency Medical Services Authority provides ambulance service for Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
The investigation into the kickbacks started several years ago when a federal civil lawsuit was filed by a so-called whistleblower, a former employee of a company that contracted with EMSA.
On Monday, the federal government joined in the lawsuit alleging the defendants owe millions of dollars in penalties and damages for false Medicare and Medicaid claims.
The federal lawsuit said “Defendants engaged in a kickback scheme designed to control the award of a lucrative public ambulance contract.”
That contract was awarded by EMSA to Paramedics Plus.
The federal government alleges in court documents Paramedics Plus was created to displace EMSA’s current ambulance services contractor and in exchange the newly created company would kick back part of its proceeds to EMSA and EMSA president Stephen Williamson.
The government alleges the problem with this is it “undermines the goals of ensuring fair competition for federal funds and providing the highest quality of health care to patients in a market driven by quality of care, not financial incentives.”
“The anti-kickback act says you can’t pay a thing of value in order to receive funds from Medicare or Medicaid,” said former federal prosecutors Robert McCampbell.
So, the government said claims submitted by EMSA during this time to Medicare and the Oklahoma Medicaid program are false claims.
“The penalties under the False Claims Act are enormous,” McCampbell said.
McCampbell is not in any way connected with the case.
But, he tells NewsChannel 4 those penalties are triple damages plus $11,000 per claim submitted.
It could be tens of millions of dollars.
“The numbers obviously could be enormous,” McCampbell said.
Some of those kickbacks alleged in the lawsuit are paying costs incurred by EMSA, making political contributions to Oklahoma politicians at the request of the EMSA president, paying millions of dollars in bribes, interest free cash payments and loans and expensive gifts.
And, the lawsuit said all this likely cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, because it kept other companies from fairly bidding on the contract.
We received these statements from EMSA and Paramedics Plus Tuesday:
"Over the last twenty years, Paramedics Plus has served communities from Florida to California, offering state-of-the-art emergency medical services at competitive prices.
Recently, we have been named in a lawsuit brought by a former employee seeking money as a so-called 'whistleblower.' The federal government has joined this suit, also seeking money from us and others.
These claims involve one provision of a contractual relationship made in 1998 to provide EMS staffing for an Oklahoma public trust called EMSA. EMSA is the emergency medical services authority for the citizens of Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
Under that relationship, we at Paramedics Plus helped EMSA provide emergency medical services, which were independently judged to be among the best in the country. We also agreed to return a share of our profit to EMSA—a standard and legal practice in this industry—which was publicly disclosed. The whistleblower and the federal government now say that limiting our profit and returning a portion of it back to these communities somehow violated federal law.
One of our most precious freedoms is the right to defend ourselves against false accusations, even when brought by the federal government. We intend to vigorously exercise that right and expect to be vindicated."