Cancer centers accused of Medicare fraud, unsafe practices

Fort Myers-based 21st Century Oncology announced it is seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a decision that follows years of declining revenue, two recent multi-million dollar settlements related to billing fraud allegations and a long list of ongoing lawsuits. Frank Gluck/The News-Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Two of the nation’s largest cancer-care providers are accused of engaging in an illegal “gentleman’s agreement” to divide up treatment services in Florida.

The allegation against Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute and 21st Century Oncology lists multiple claims — gender discrimination, fraudulent Medicare billing and unsafe medical practices — against the companies in a 50-page federal whistleblower lawsuit filed last year that had, until recently, been under seal and out of the public eye.

According to the lawsuit, Florida Cancer Specialists and 21st Century Oncology paid “millions of dollars to each other in the form of exclusive patient referrals in order to secure their individual monopolies in Southwest Florida of medical oncology (Florida Cancer Specialists) and radiation oncology (21st Century Oncology).”

The lawsuit was brought by Sharon Dill, Florida Cancer Specialists vice president for human resources and chief human resources officer from 2012 to 2015, and Christina Sievert, the company’s vice president of clinical financial services 2013 to 2015.

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Both say they were fired. Dill claims she lost her job after disclosing an unspecified disability. Sievert said the company retaliated against her when she claimed gender discrimination.

Benjamin Yormak, the attorney for Dill and Sievert, said his clients have company documents to back up their claims.

“They were privy to a number of wrongdoings,” Yormak said. “If you look at the services 21st Century provides and Florida Cancer on a national basis or through the state of Florida, you’ll notice that they should be direct competitors. If you look at the services offered, say, from Sarasota-Bradenton to Marco (Island), you’ll notice that there’s not competition between them.”

Florida Cancer Specialists treats patients throughout Florida. On the Gulf Coast, it has centers from Tampa Bay to Naples. Harwin operates out of a $8.5 million office the company opened last year on…