A former health care executive in Texas has admitted to playing a role in an alleged $60 million Medicare fraud scheme that included disturbing practices such as overdosing hospice patients to “hasten their deaths” and maximize company profits.
Melanie Murphey, a 36-year-old former executive for Novus Health Services in Frisco, pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to commit health care fraud. She could face up to 10 years in prison for the crime.
Federal prosecutors allege that Murphey was one of 16 individuals involved in a hospice care conspiracy that took advantage of vulnerable people.
Murphey worked as director of operations for Novus in north Texas between 2012 and 2015. She reported directly to Bradley Harris, the company’s owner and a co-defendant in the case. Neither Murphey nor Harris was licensed medical professionals, but prosecutors say Harris made decisions about patients’ health care so he could bill Medicare and Medicaid for the cost of the procedures.
In court records obtained by HuffPost, Murphey admitted she knew Harris instructed nurses to intentionally overmedicate patients with medications such as morphine “with the intent to hasten their deaths.” She also acknowledged that she filled out false doctor’s orders for medical services and falsified Do Not Resuscitate orders so that the company didn’t have to pay for ambulance trips to the hospital.
Murphey said she admitted patients to hospice who were not eligible for hospice service, but billed Medicare and Medicaid for those stays and services. She also billed Medicare and Medicaid for hospice service that wasn’t provided to patients.
Murphey said she and Harris were also involved in fraudulent practices around continuous care, or CC, a service typically initiated by doctors so that patients can receive around-the-clock care from a licensed medical professional. Medicare pays a higher rate for continuous care than for routine hospice care.
“Bradley Harris wanted to place Novus hospice beneficiaries on CC as early as possible because Harris wanted to benefit from the higher billing rates,” alleges a legal brief signed by Murphey and a U.S. attorney. “If a beneficiary was on CC for three or four days without change, Bradley Harris instructed the CC nurses to give more medication to the beneficiary ... Harris ordered these increases in medication because he wanted the beneficiaries to die.”
Christopher Knox, an attorney for Harris, denied the allegations.
“We are aware of the allegations lodged by Mrs. Murphy in her factual resume and we wholeheartedly disagree with her opinions,” he said in an email to HuffPost. “Further, we are not aware of any evidence that shows that Mr. Harris caused, hastened or otherwise contributed to the death of the hospice patients being treated by Novus.”
Now that Murphey has entered a plea agreement with the government, she is expected to testify against the 15 others involved in the case, including Harris, his wife, five nurses and five doctors, according to NBC Dallas-Forth Worth.