- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A former head of a suburban hospice who was accused of using patients who weren’t terminally ill to collect millions of dollars in false Medicare and Medicaid billings pleaded guilty on Thursday to a health care fraud charge.

Former Horizons Hospice chief operating officer Mary Ann Stewart was indicted last year on one count of health care fraud and four counts of lying to a federal grand jury.

One of the grand jury counts was dismissed last year after a judge agreed with Stewart’s attorney that questions about whether her estranged husband stayed in hotels on the company’s dime weren’t specific enough. Stewart initially pleaded not guilty to the charges but on Thursday pleaded guilty to the fraud charge.

Stewart’s sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 9, when she will face 10 years in prison, a fine of $500,000 or both.

An indictment contended the fraud cost the government millions of dollars from January 2008 through August 2012 at the facility in Monroeville, 15 miles east of Pittsburgh.

Stewart had her staff admit patients who weren’t terminally ill to the hospice so she could bill the government insurance programs for end-of-life medical services, the indictment said. Such treatment often includes pain medications and management.

The charges against Stewart weren’t the first brought against an executive at the hospice.

Dr. Oliver Herndon pleaded guilty in November 2014 to submitting claims for patients who weren’t terminally ill or for services not provided. He was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison in July. That sentence is running concurrent to an 11-year federal prison sentence for supplying patients at his separate practice with so many illegal painkillers that his arrest in 2011 caused the street price of the pills to double.

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