Fraud task force targets Louisiana physicians

The Medicare Fraud Strike Force claims to have evidence that four Louisiana physicians wrote a large number of false prescriptions. Officials allege that this activity sustained a multi-million-dollar healthcare fraud in the Baton Rouge area. The four physicians remain licensed to practice medicine. Two of them pled guilty, and a third was convicted at a jury trial in August. The fourth doctor had previous probations regarding his medical license. He is now fighting the fraud charges.

Prior to being charged with Medicare fraud, three of the targeted physicians were placed on probation for questionable prescription practices. Court and board records show that the Medicare Strike Force fraud cases are not related to the medical board's previous disciplinary actions against the physicians.

The license of one of the men, an 82-year-old, was twice suspended in the 1990s for alleged over-prescribing of painkillers. A 1991 order from the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners told him to surrender "for life his DEA permit for prescription and dispensation of controlled drugs." But he retained authority to prescribe Medicare-funded power wheelchairs for patients. In August 2011, he was convicted by a federal jury in Baton Rouge on charges that he accepted illegal payments for writing unnecessary prescriptions for power wheelchairs. The physician has not yet been sentenced.

The medical license of another of the doctors, a 41-year-old New Orleans man, was placed on probation for three years in October 2010 for his failure to control prescription notepads used to obtain a variety of medical drugs. The man was also ordered by the board of medical examiners to cease the practice of medicine in the field of "management of non-malignant chronic or intractable pain." The physician pled guilty this year in a federal case in which he was suspected of defrauding Medicare out of more than $470,000 for unnecessary equipment or services. He has agreed that he owes restitution of $230,963 to Medicare.

The facts and circumstances surrounding each physician's case differ. And it remains unclear what evidence the fraud task force actually has against them. However, it is vital that, even if the men have had prior run-ins with the law, their legal rights as accused individuals are protected. Regardless of their past legal troubles, they deserve a fair and impartial trial.

Source: nola.com, "Louisiana doctors continue to work while under investigation," Nov. 22, 2011

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