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February 13--  The federal government is suing Meadows Regional Medical Center in Vidalia for alleged violation of federal law.

In a complaint filed December 23 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District, Dublin Division, U.S. Attorney Edward J. Tarver claims the hospital received Medicare payments in violation of the Stark Law and the federal Anti-Kickback Statute.

The Stark Law was passed in 1989 to "curb over utilization of services by physicians who could profit by referring patients to facilities in which they have a financial interest."

According to the law, doctors with a "financial relationship" with Meadows are prohibited from referring patients to the medical center and the medical center is prohibited from submitting Medicare claims for services rendered as a result of such referrals.

The government also alleges the hospital paid physicians to make referrals and then billed Medicare for reimbursement based on the referrals.

Allegations in the suit have been under investigation for more than a year and the government says it may file an amended complaint at a later time under the False Claims Act.

The government seeks a jury trial and a verdict ordering Meadows to reimburse the government for Medicare over payments plus legal costs and interest. However, according to public records, most Stark Law cases are settled out of court.  One of the latest in Georgia was in 2015 and involved Columbus Regional Healthcare System which settled for more than $25 million.

The suit says Meadows has fully cooperated with the investigation and is working with the government to "resolve the issues arising out of the investigation."

Meadows CEO Alan Kent has been advised by legal counsel not to discuss ongoing litigation.

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