On October 16, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office filed a whistleblower lawsuit against a collection of opioid addiction treatment companies collectively known as CleanSlate, as well as against CleanSlate’s former owner, Dr. Amanda Louise Wilson. The complaint alleges that starting in 2011, CleanSlate prescribed millions of dollars of medically unnecessary urine tests and performed the tests at facilities also owned by Wilson. This would violate state and federal laws prohibiting self-referral of lab testing. Wilson allegedly developed CleanSlate policies that encouraged the referral of unneeded urine tests to be performed at laboratories that she owned or managed.
The whistleblower, Dr. Wendy Welch, was the Eastern Division Medical Director for CleanSlate between September 2016 and January 2017, when she resigned from the position. The complaint alleges that during her time as Medical Director, Welch witnessed a pattern of generalized treatment plans that were applied to patients that needed other specific treatments. The complaint states: “CleanSlate’s charts reveal numerous instances in which practitioners noted that a patient needed a higher level of care than CleanSlate could provide, but those concerns were ignored and the CleanSlate system simply scheduled the patient for the next visit and the next buprenorphine prescription, followed by the next medically unnecessary confirmatory lab test.” These “unnecessary confirmatory” tests were then billed to Medicaid, resulting in alleged False Claims Act violations.
The complaint also alleges that starting in 2016, CleanSlate created and began to execute an overly ambitious expansion plan that made it impossible for it to ensure quality care for its patients. “Fueled by the flow of venture capital funds from Defendant Apple Tree Partners and the resulting focus on the profits to be made from the opioid epidemic, CleanSlate accelerated its expansion far beyond its ability to provide medically safe care to patients,” the complaint reads. The complaint claims that the defendants knew that they could only achieve their ambitious financial expansion plans with a system that targeted and defrauded government healthcare programs.
This is not the first time that CleanSlate has been accused of malpractice. In 2017, the company paid the government $750,000 to settle allegations that it improperly prescribed the drug suboxone.
Whistleblowers, or relators, are an essential tool for uncovering medical fraud. Relators who bring complaints under the False Claims Act’s qui tam provisions can receive rewards from 10 to 30% of the total funds recovered by the government.