Associates in Dermatology and its medical director, Dr. Michael Steppie, are out $3,000,000 today after agreeing to settle Medicare fraud charges. The three former employees who brought the case, however, will receive $500,000 in whistleblower award monies.
According to a complaint filed in a Florida federal court last year, Dermatology Associates allowed an unlicensed technician to perform radiation treatments on patients. Bills sent to Medicare by the medical practice, however, falsely indicated that a doctor had ordered and supervised the procedure. Worse, the complaint said non-physicians were also performing surgeries.
If that isn’t enough fraud, the three whistleblowers also charged the defendants with developing an incentive program that allowed nurse practitioners and physician assistants to receive commissions for performing biopsies. The complaint said that many of the biopsies were unnecessary.
Dr. Steppie’s employees say that he was once active in consulting with patients but over time, his focus centered more on volume and profits. The three whistleblowers say that many patients who received radiation therapy were referred for treatment by a call center operator, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner. The call center operators had no formal medical training and made the referrals simply based on the patients’ description of symptoms made over the phone.
Medicare fraud costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year. It often endangers patient safety as well. Although the surgical procedures and radiation therapies in this case were relatively minor, there is always risks and discomfort involved. Excessive radiation can also cause cancer.
Doctors take an oath to help the sick, not endanger their patients all for the sake of profits. Unfortunately in this case, it appears Dr. Steppie was overcome with greed.
Although the medical practice and Dr. Steppie agreed to pay $3 million, neither were forced to admit any wrongdoing. An article in Lakeland’s The Ledger says that Dr. Steppie’s medical license remains in good standing.
In announcing the settlement, U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley said, “By bringing (whistleblower) cases such as this, we recover funds obtained through fraud and deter others from attempting similar schemes.” The False Claims Act allows a whistleblower to recover up to 30% of whatever the government collects from wrongdoers. The typical award is usually between 15% and 20%. Many states have similar whistleblower award programs for Medicaid fraud.
The three whistleblowers in this case had all worked for Associates in Dermatology. One was a billing clerk, one was a radiation technician and one, Katherine Brown M.D., was physician who worked in the practice for just one day. One day is all it took, however, to generate enough inside information to bring the scam to a halt.
Whistleblowers with inside, original source knowledge of fraud involving a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid may be eligible for an award. If you think you qualify, give us a call. We help our clients receive the maximum whistleblower awards possible and can help protect you against retaliation as well.
For more information, visit our healthcare fraud whistleblower page. Have questions or think you may be entitled to a reward? Contact attorney Brian Mahany at or by telephone at . All inquiries are protected by the attorney-client privilege and kept in complete confidence.
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