ARS TECHNICA – A federal judge in California has sentenced a neurosurgeon to five years in prison for his part in a multimillion-dollar, 15-year-long fraud scheme that used bribes and kickbacks to funnel thousands of patients to a now-defunct hospital where they were overcharged for invasive spinal surgeries.
The scam left patients questioning the quality of the medical devices now implanted into their spines, as well as whether they even needed surgery to begin with.
The neurosurgeon, Lokesh Tantuwaya, 55, of San Diego, is just the latest to be convicted and sentenced in the scheme, which ran from 1997 to 2013.
In that time, dozens of medical professionals, including Tantuwaya as well as other surgeons, orthopedic specialists, and chiropractors, received sizable bribes and kickbacks for referring patients to and performing procedures at the Pacific Hospital of Long Beach.
The scam was led by Pacific Hospital’s former owner, Michael Drobot Sr., and it generated nearly $600 million in fraudulent medical bills, many of which were paid by California’s worker’s compensation system. To date, 23 people have been convicted for their involvement in the scheme, which was busted in a federal investigation dubbed “Operation Spinal Cap.”
According to federal prosecutors, Drobot typically paid a kickback of $15,000 per lumbar fusion surgery and $10,000 per cervical fusion surgery, both of which can involve medical hardware to hold vertebrae in place. Medical professionals involved in the scheme had bogus contracts with Drobot that tried to conceal the kickbacks. Meanwhile, some patients with painful back injuries were encouraged to travel hundreds of miles to undergo procedures at Pacific Hospital, though other qualified medical facilities were closer.
Drobot could afford to pay the kickbacks, federal prosecutors said, because he inflated the costs of the medical devices implanted into patients’ spines and passed the bill on to insurers. To inflate the cost of the medical devices, Drobot set up shell companies … READ MORE.