(Adds comments from Catholic Health Initiatives, paragraphs 10-11)
By Suzanne Barlyn
Oct 30 (Reuters) - Hundreds of U.S. hospitals will pay a total of more than $250 million stemming from allegations that they implanted cardiac devices in Medicare patients in violation of coverage requirements, the U.S. Justice Department said on Friday.
The 457 hospitals are from 43 states, the Justice Department said.
The settlement involves a type of device that detects and treats extremely fast, life-threatening heart rhythms, called fibrillations, by delivering a shock to the heart, the Justice Department said.
But only patients with certain medical characteristics and risk factors qualify for the device, known as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD, the Justice Department said.
Medicare guidelines provide that doctors should not implant ICDs in patients who have recently suffered a heart attack or had other procedures, such as heart bypass surgery. Each of the hospitals that settled on Friday had implanted ICDs during 40 day waiting periods that Medicaid requires for heart attack patients and 90 day waiting periods for bypass patients.
The conduct occurred between 2003 and 2010.
Hospitals hit with the largest fines include Ascension Health in St. Louis, Missouri ($14.9 million), Catholic Health East in Newtown Square Pennsylvania, now part of Trinity Health Corp ($11 million), and Catholic Health Initiatives in Englewood Colorado ($7.8 million).
The hospitals and others were defendants in a federal whistleblower suit brought under the U.S. False Claims Act, a law that imposes liability on companies that defraud the U.S. government.
Spokespeople for Ascension and Trinity said the hospitals were pleased to have resolved the matter. The Trinity spokeswoman said the hospital fully cooperated with the Justice Department and that its doctors acted in patients' bests interests. Trinity settled the case to avoid additional legal costs, the spokeswoman said.
A Catholic Health Initiatives spokesman said the hospital had been working with the government on its inquiry and settled the case to avoid litigation.
"While the government's focus was on the billing criteria, our primary focus has always been to ensure that our patients are provided with appropriate care," the spokesman said. "We are satisfied that appropriate care was, in fact, provided to our patients." (Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrew Hay)