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FROM WLEX18.COM

The federal government has joined a lawsuit seeking to force a Kentucky health care company to pay fines and damages for multiple alleged incidents of intentional overbilling of Medicare over nearly a decade.

The government's intervention, unsealed Tuesday along with the initial complaint brought by two former employees of Nurses' Registry and Home Health Corporation, allows the government to collect part of any judgment against the company should damages be awarded or a settlement reached.

The two former employees, Alisia Robinson-Hill and David Price, who worked as a case manager and office administrator, sued Nurses' Registry in 2008, saying the company exaggerated the medical conditions and needs of patients in order to increase Medicare claims. They sued under the federal False Claims Act.

"Those who misstate the conditions of patients for their own financial gain erode the integrity of the health care system, and they do it at taxpayers' expense," said Tony West, an assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Division.

The government is seeking to have Nurses' Registry pay between $5,500 and $10,000 for each alleged overbilling. Should damages be awarded or a settlement reached, Robinson-Hill and Price could collect between 25 percent and 30 percent of any funds. They are also seeking undisclosed damages.

In court filings, Lexington-based Nurses' Registry said the offenses alleged in the lawsuit allegations in the lawsuit were covered by a $1.6 million settlement between the company and government in 2006.

Nurses' Registry, which provides nurses for short-staffed doctors and provides in-home care, also sought to dismiss the case, saying Robinson-Hill, a registered nurse and former vice president of operations and administration for the company, posted hints and comments about the suit on Facebook while the legal proceedings were still under seal by order of a judge.

Suits filed under the False Claims Act generally remain hidden from the public while the federal government decides whether to take part. Once that decision is made, the initial complaint and some filings become public.

Because Robinson-Hill breached that confidentiality, the legal action should be dismissed, the company said.

Nurses' Registry attached nine Facebook postings by Robinson-Hill between April and July mentioning a countdown to the date of the government's formal intervention and unsealing of the suit, but not giving the name of the company. Robinson-Hill also posted several times of a "long hard drag," and of another, unrelated Medicare settlement between a company and the federal government.

In a July 5 posting, Robinson-Hill wrote: "There is no amount of money that can make you happy. I can prove it to you, not by example, but by seeing it! Greed and anger, wicked combo!"

Nurses' Registry settled a complaint by the federal government and the Kentucky Attorney General's office in 2006 for $1.6 million stemming from claims made from 1997 through 2003. Robinson-Hill, Price and the federal government allege that Nurses' Registry violated the terms of the settlement by not reporting "substantial overpayments" to Medicare and failing to institute a disclosure program.

Robinson-Hill and Price claim Nurses' Registry falsified patient records in order to increase the amount Medicare could be billed for and, in some cases, provided patients with therapy services that were not medically necessary.

The two claim that Nurses' Registry harassed them, including secretly monitoring emails, before they left the company in 2007 and 2008, respectively. In court filings, Nurses' Registry denied the allegations.

An email seeking content was sent to Nurses' Registry on Tuesday.