- Associated Press - Friday, February 27, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The former head of a Pittsburgh-area hospice used patients who weren’t terminally ill to collect millions of dollars in false Medicare and Medicaid billings, according to a federal indictment.

Former Horizons Hospice chief operating officer Mary Ann Stewart, 47, was indicted in Pittsburgh on one count of health care fraud and four counts of lying to a federal grand jury.

The indictment contends the alleged fraud cost the government unspecified millions of dollars from January 2008 through August 2012 at the facility in Monroeville, about 15 miles east of Pittsburgh. The indictment alleges she conspired with unnamed “others known to the grand jury,” but federal prosecutors aren’t saying whether anyone else might be charged.

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.

Officials with the hospice center didn’t return a call for comment.

Thursday’s indictment wasn’t the first time an executive at the center has faced federal charges.

Dr. Oliver Herndon, 43, formerly of McMurray, pleaded guilty in November to submitting claims for Horizons Hospice patients who weren’t terminally ill or for services not provided. He faces sentencing in that case on July 14 before a federal judge in Pittsburgh.

Herndon is already serving 11 years, three months in prison stemming from a previous federal court conviction in Pittsburgh. In that case, he acknowledged overprescribing drugs - mostly the painkillers oxycodone and oxymorphone - without a legitimate medical purpose and with health care fraud relating to his private practice in neighboring Washington County.

That investigation began in fall 2011 after 26 Pittsburgh-area pharmacies contacted federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents with concerns about unusually large prescriptions for narcotic painkillers from Herndon.

The DEA raided Herndon’s palliative care practice in the upscale suburb of Peters Township in February 2012. Investigators found 87 other pharmacies had also stopped filling Herndon’s prescriptions because of concerns he was overprescribing painkillers.

Federal authorities said then that Herndon supplied so many illegal painkillers that their street price doubled after his arrest.

Online court records don’t list an attorney for Stewart. She now lives in Bossier City, Louisiana, and does not have a telephone listed in her name.

She’s scheduled to be arraigned before a federal magistrate in Pittsburgh on March 19.

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