Two doctors, one from New York and one from New Jersey, were sentenced to prison on June 8, 2016 in two separate criminal cases for taking illegal kickbacks (i.e., bribes) for referring their patients for medical services to medical companies that paid them kickbacks.
The New York family practice physician was sentenced to 37 months in prison for receiving more than $100,000 in illegal kickbacks from a lab that provided blood work for his patients. The New Jersey internal medicine physician was sentenced to one year in prison for having a diagnostic lab to whom he referred his patients pay his home property taxes and pay his home remodeling costs in exchange for the referrals.
The federal judge who sentenced the New York physician stated at the physician’s sentencing, “You forgot the oath you took when you became a doctor. It wasn’t to make as much money as possible. It was to serve your patients.” The New York physician was one of 27 physicians, and 12 others, all of whom pleaded guilty to a large kickback scheme uncovered in 2013 involving a New Jersey medical lab that paid illegal kickbacks to physicians in New York and in New Jersey that netted the now defunct medical lab in excess of $100 million in revenues.
These two physician kickback prosecutions are not unique: in March 2016, a New Jersey family physician was sentenced to three years in prison for systematically billing private health insurance companies and Medicare for services he did not provide. In April 2016, a New Jersey physician was sentenced to two years in prison for accepting bribes from the same New Jersey medical lab involved with the recently sentenced New York physician. Also in April 2016, a New Jersey state court sentenced a New Jersey physician to six years in prison for his participation in an illegal oxycodone ring. And in May 2016, a New Jersey chiropractor pleaded guilty to accepting in excess of $250,000 in illegal bribes from pain specialists for his referral of patients to them.
It has been estimated that at a minimum, tens of billions of dollars of the estimated $3 trillion spent on health care in the United States in 2014 involved health care fraud. The U.S. Inspector General warned in 2014 that illegal health care kickback schemes harm competition in the health care field, results in unnecessary medical tests and medical procedures being ordered by corrupt physicians and other health care providers, and corrupts the medical judgment of physicians and other medical professionals in the care and treatment provided to their patients.
Some of these corrupt physicians may be members of the chorus of physicians who complain that the threat of medical malpractice claims causes them to engage in defensive medicine (i.e., ordering medical tests and procedures that they would not otherwise order because they fear that if they fail to do so, their patients may end up suing them for medical malpractice).
Greed and self-dealing permeate the medical field just as greed and self-dealing affect other aspects of our daily lives. While we hope and expect that our health care providers have our best interest and our precious health as their top concerns, the criminal prosecutions and guilty pleas of corrupt physicians indicate that it is not always the case. The problem for many of us is that we often have no way of knowing which of our treating physicians and other health care providers are placing their profits above our health.
Would it be a stretch in logic to conclude that a physician who accepts illegal kickbacks would also be willing to falsify medical records and lie about the reason why his patient suffered an unanticipated injury from medical treatment? Would a corrupt physician be willing to testify falsely regarding his medical negligence? If a doctor is willing to accept bribes, why would we expect him to be honest with his patients?
If you or a loved one had an unnecessary medical test or unnecessary medical procedure in New York, in New Jersey, or in another U.S. state, you should promptly seek the advice of a medical malpractice lawyer in your state who may investigate your claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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