9 investigates Halifax Health overcharged Medicare/Medicaid lawsuit

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VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. —

Channel 9 investigated claims that Halifax Health put patients' safety at risk for a higher payout Tuesday.

Last week, Channel 9 reported on a federal lawsuit filed claiming Halifax overcharged Medicare and Medicaid.

Elin Kunz, the woman who blew the whistle on the alleged fraud, spoke to WFTV Tuesday.

According to the lawsuit, an investigation revealed that a neurosurgeon had been performing operations that were not medically necessary.

The lawsuit said after Halifax Health was made aware of this, it did not notify the patients who had the surgery, or the government.

"Are you worried that Halifax was putting paychecks over patients?" asked Channel 9 reporter Lori Brown.

"Very much so. I would not sit here and go through this for five years if I wasn't," said Kunz.

Kunz chose to sit down with Channel 9 for her first TV interview about her landmark whistle-blower case against Halifax Health.

"You look at your own parents and think if that was my dad or my mom, this would be devastating," Kunz said.

Kunz has worked at Halifax Health for 20 years.

She said she knew it was time to put her career on the line five years ago when she said she found out the hospital was admitting hundreds of patients who did not need to be.

Even more troubling, a doctor was performing unnecessary spinal fusion surgeries.

Her lawsuit said it was all happening for money.

Kunz attorney, Marlan Wilbanks, spoke to Channel 9's Lori Brown on the phone.

"Everyone knew about all of these things, but they just weren't doing anything about them," Wilbanks said.

The lawsuit said the hospital was making hundreds of millions of dollars by over-billing Medicaid and Medicare.

Kunz said doctors were making money through illegal kickbacks amounting to millions of dollars.

"After identifying it, we still went ahead and paid the incentive that I knew we couldn't do, and that was also devastating to me," Kunz said. "That's when I thought this could be criminal."

Halifax said in a statement, "Halifax Health's physician relationships are legally appropriate and we are vigorously defending our position."

Patients concerned they received unnecessary spinal fusions can request their medical records from Halifax and seek legal advice.

The case trial is set for November.

Elin Kunz said she is still working for Halifax because the government protects whistle-blowers.