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Intermountain Healthcare to pay feds $25.5 million

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The largest health and hospital system in Utah is agreeing to hand over $25.5 million to the federal government to settle claims it improperly contracted with doctors.

Intermountain Healthcare released information about the settlement and claims Wednesday in a statement, saying an internal review launched in 2008 found the nonprofit health system may have had improper financial ties to doctors who referred patients to its hospitals.

“We strive to be compliant. We strive to be a model health care system. And this does not fit with who we really are,” Brent Wallace, the chief medical officer for Intermountain, said in a statement.

Wallace said the hospital system told federal officials about those contracts in 2009.

Wallace characterized the biggest issues in the settlement as lapses in paperwork. For example, Intermountain was renting office space to Physicians in Idaho and in Richfield, Utah, but did not renew those leases on time, he said.

Those were “things that tripped us up and made it so that we were not in compliance for everything that we should’ve been,” Wallace said.

Federal regulators alleged that the corporation gave bonuses to doctors based on patient referrals to the system and that it rented office space to physicians without a written lease.

Intermountain said in a statement that it is embarrassed by the issue and has since put in place measures to prevent similar ones from happening again. Those measures include drawing up stricter agreements with physicians and hiring more employees to oversee the contracts.

Financial links like the alleged contracts in this settlement are dangerous because they can corrupt doctors’ judgment about the care a patient may need, said Stuart Delery, an acting director dealing with civil issues at the federal Attorney General’s office. Delery said in a statement that he expects the Intermountain settlement to deter other such relationships.