Halifax Health facing $1 billion whistle-blower lawsuit

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VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. - Volusia County's largest health care provider is facing an uncertain future Monday.

The government is doubling the amount of damages it's asking for in a whistle-blower lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that Halifax Health ripped off taxpayers and may have put profits over patients' medical needs.

The whistle-blower's first television interview was only on Eyewitness News last month.

The lawsuit was asking for up to $500 million, but now, the government is seeking about $1 billion.

Channel 9's Lori Brown interviewed the woman who blew the whistle in one of the largest lawsuits ever.

Most companies just don't have $1 billion in savings, and the allegations are jaw-dropping.

Eyewitness News was the first to speak on camera with Halifax whistle-blower Elin Kunz last month.

She claims Halifax continually overbilled Medicaid and Medicare, and even more disturbing, one doctor performed unnecessary spinal fusion surgeries.

"I would go back to my boss and say, 'We can't do this anymore,'" Kunz said in June 2013

The lawsuit alleges that Halifax doctors would send patients to the hospital, and in return, the hospital would send illegal kickbacks back to the doctors.

"It gave the doctors a financial incentive to give patients to Halifax," said Marlan Wilbanks, Kunz's attorney.

The complaint said two neurosurgeons received annual bonuses of more than $1 million.

"At this point, the stakes are very high for Halifax," Kunz's attorney said.

WFTV asked University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith if a $1 billion judgment could bankrupt Halifax.

"I think the government is trying to send a message, fundamentally. Do I think they will collect that much? Highly unlikely. I'm sure the fines will be significantly reduced by the time Halifax pays them," Snaith said.

Kunz just hopes speaking out will protect patients.

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

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

Halifax Health sent a statement late Monday that reads, in part, "Halifax Health maintains its physician contracts are correct and will defend the health system's belief vigorously."