Say it ain’t so, Joe.
A Detroit doctor recently pleaded guilty to prescribing unnecessary tests, chemotherapy and other drugs that were billed to Medicare in an amount approximating $24.3 million over a two-year period.
He has been convicted of twenty-nine counts of health care fraud, conspiracy, and other charges brought by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The FBI interviewed employees at Dr. Farid Fata’s oncology practice who told of intentional misdiagnosis and prescription of chemotherapy for terminally-ill and patients in remission who could not have benefited from chemotherapy treatment. He diagnosed false cases of anemia and fatigue to justify hematology treatments and the prescription of expensive or unnecessary pharmaceuticals.
“Living in this hell”
One oncologist in Fata’s practice is on record as saying his association meant “living in this hell”. He saw the malpractice going on and even went so far as to advise a patient to seek a second opinion and not return to Fata’s office when chemotherapy treatment was ordered while the patient was in remission.
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Fata ran six oncology centers in Michigan. From 2007 to 2013, $109 million was billed to Medicare from these centers.
One allegation in the complaint cited an incident in which a patient fell and hit his head in one of the centers and Fata insisted he complete his chemotherapy treatment before going to the hospital. The patient died of the head injury.
The complaint filed with the United States District Court against Fata contains many disturbing allegations:
- “Chemotherapy was ordered for all [emphasis added] end-of-life patients…no other physician would do this and would let the patient die in peace.”
- Inappropriate administration of certain therapies that were not indicated.
- Inappropriate dosages and lengths of treatment therapies.
- Withholding of medically-sound alternatives to chemotherapy treatment.
- Fata’s practice saw fifty to seventy patients a day and most of them are administered by foreign “interns” who may not have been licensed. Injections were given by unlicensed medical assistants.
- Falsification of cancer diagnoses in order to prescribe PET scans and chemotherapy treatment.
- In another heinous act, a patient came to Fata’s office for treatment and was found to have low sodium levels, which can be fatal. The patient was ordered to receive the scheduled chemotherapy before being taken to the hospital where he was admitted.
- Fata’s history showed that he billed for the most expensive service even if it was not rendered; he typically spent less than five minutes with each patient.
The list goes on.
A great many issues are raised in light of this investigation.
- How common is this sort of practice?
- Why did it take six years to nail this guy?
- Why did no one in the office make official (even anonymous) reports to the medical association or other authority?
This is certainly not the first case of health care fraud. In 2012, GlaxoSmithKline was the loser in the largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history to the tune of $3 billion. In the settlement, it agreed to stop paying doctors to promote its products and end the subsequent sales kick-backs.
Early in 2014, twenty-five people were indicted in a multimillion dollar Medicaid fraud in our nation’s capitol. In this case, however, the fraud is overshadowed by the cost in human life and suffering. The FBI reports that:
“Health care fraud costs the country tens of billions of dollars a year. It’s a rising threat, with national health care expenditures estimated to exceed $3 trillion in 2014 and spending continuing to outpace inflation. Recent cases also show that medical professionals continue, and may be more willing, to risk patient harm in furtherance of their schemes.”
Who ultimately pays for Medicare and Medicaid fraud? U.S. taxpayers.
We can learn a great deal from this case. Doctors are not infallible. They don’t know everything. They are not superhuman. They can be dishonest and can cause great harm. Second (and third) opinions are always a good idea.
When encountering health care fraud, the offender should be immediately reported (to the United States Attorney’s office information line at 888-702-0553). In the case of known malpractice, the offender should be reported to the local medical association to prevent further potential harm.
One last question looms: where are the criminal charges? This person is a disgrace to humanity, preying on one of the most vulnerable segments of our society–ill seniors.