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$712,528 settles case over Medicaid fraud

by John Lynch | April 14, 2016 at 3:19 a.m.

A Little Rock home health-care provider has promised to pay Arkansas $712,528 in fines and restitution to settle accusations the company falsely billed Medicaid, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said this week.

In a news release announcing the agreement to end litigation against Step by Step Senior Care Inc., Rutledge said the company will repay $472,739 into the Arkansas Medicaid Program Trust Fund plus a $239,789 civil penalty, which she described as the largest such financial sanction against an Arkansas home health-care provider in the history of her agency's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

The settlement also allows greater monitoring of Step by Step in the future and prohibits the company's former owners, Breon Harmon and Clarise Tatum, from working with the company for five years, Rutledge's office stated.

"As Arkansas's chief legal officer, I am committed to using all means necessary to hold not just individuals but also companies accountable for Medicaid fraud," Rutledge said in Tuesday's news release.

A Step by Step employee pleaded guilty in February to Medicaid fraud for billing the program for a fictitious patient.

The attorney general sued the company and its owners in June, alleging they had submitted false claims to the Medicaid program and breached their provider agreement with the state.

"I filed this lawsuit so that Step by Step Senior Care Inc. and its owners would be held accountable for their deception," Rutledge's statement said.

"Today's settlement should also alert other health care companies that fraudulent actions are a serious offense which I will fully investigate and take legal action if necessary."

The lawsuit had demanded $479,577 in restitution, $1,438,731 in damages, and fines of $31.64 million, based on the maximum $10,000 penalty for each of the 3,164 violations documented in an audit by the Office of Medicaid Inspector General.

Rutledge's lawsuit was prompted by the inspector general's investigation of the company, which became a contracted Medicaid provider in March 2009 to supply doctor-authorized medically necessary services to physically incapacitated patients.

The program's workers assist clients with bathing, dressing, eating, housekeeping, laundry, personal hygiene, medications and mobility.

The inspector general's nine-month review of the company's operations, begun in June 2014, found evidence of fraud and questionable billing between Sept. 1, 2013, and the audit's start, the lawsuit stated.

The findings also led to Step by Step's suspension from the Medicaid program.

Rutledge said the settlement will be reduced by $6,838, the amount paid by Dawna Baker Kincade, a former Step by Step employee who pleaded guilty to criminal Medicaid fraud in February in Pulaski County Circuit Court.

Authorities say that's how much Kincade, 47, stole by falsifying billing documents on behalf of a fake client.

In exchange for her guilty plea to the felony charge, she was sentenced to five years of probation and fined $7,500.

Kincade was paying two other women -- Adrienne Bonita Boone and Tracie Jenkins, neither of them Step by Step employees -- out of the account for that nonexistent patient, authorities said.

Kincade also pleaded guilty to felony theft for stealing from the company.

Court filings show that Boone, 47, agreed to repay $8,070 for money she accepted from the company between May 5, 2014, and Sept. 19, 2014.

She pleaded guilty to felony theft in exchange for two years on probation while paying $400 a month in restitution.

Jenkins, accused of accepting pay between Dec. 5, 2013, and Sept. 19, 2014, agreed to six years of probation for felony theft and to pay $12,361 in restitution at $175 per month.

Police say Kincade stole from the company between October 2013 and October 2014, some of that by cashing her co-workers' paychecks.

For that, Kincade was ordered to pay another $29,862 at $200 per month.

Kincade is also liable for her co-defendants' restitution if they do not pay it, court filings show.

In January 2012, Kincade was shot in the head on Russenberger Road, and her husband, whom she was divorcing, was arrested in the shooting.

But the attempted-murder charges were dropped against David Kincade, 41, after Dawna Kincade testified the shooting was an accident. The couple divorced in March 2012.

Metro on 04/14/2016

Print Headline: $712,528 settles case over Medicaid fraud

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