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Whistleblower to get $4 million for exposing kickbacks


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  • | 3:28 p.m. February 12, 2013
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  • Tampa Bay-Lakeland
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TAMPA — A physician who formerly worked at the Tampa Pathology Laboratory and filed a whistleblower lawsuit to expose alleged kickbacks involving Medicare payments, will receive more than $4 million following a record settlement in the case, federal officials say in a statement.

Dr. Alan Freedman, a pathologist who formerly worked at the Tampa lab had filed suit under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act. The Justice Department filed its own complaint in 2010.

Freedman's award comes from a record $26.1 million settlement in which dermatologist Dr. Stephen J. Wasserman of Venice agreed to pay the amount to resolve allegations that he accepted illegal kickbacks from the lab, according to Justice officials.

The settlement with Wasserman is the largest ever with an individual under the False Claims Act in the Middle District of Florida and one of the largest in U.S. history with an individual under the False Claims Act, officials say.

Wasserman participated in an illegal kickback arrangement with Tampa Pathology Laboratory (TPL) and its owner, Dr. Jose SuarezHoyos, a pathologist, starting around 1997, the government alleged. Wasserman allegedly sent biopsy specimens for Medicare beneficiaries to the lab for testing and diagnosis. In return, the lab provided a diagnosis on a pathology report that included a signature line for Wasserman, to make it appear to Medicare that he had performed the diagnostic work that TPL had done, according to the government.

Wasserman billed Medicare for the Tampa lab's work, passing it off as his own, and received more than $6 million in Medicare payments, officials said. He also substantially increased the number of skin biopsies performed on Medicare patients, increasing the referral business for the lab, Justice officials stated.

In addition, Wasserman performed thousands of unnecessary skin surgeries, known as adjacent tissue transfers, on Medicare beneficiaries, according to the government. The complex tissue transfers are sometimes used after removal of a skin growth. The government alleged that Wasserman performed many of the procedures to get reimbursement, not because they were medically necessary. 

“Doctors who take illegal kickbacks and perform unnecessary procedures not only put their own financial self-interest over their duty to their patients, they raise the cost of health care for all of us as patients and as taxpayers,” says Stuart F. Delery, principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. The government won't tolerate abuse of public health care programs, says Delery in the statement.
 
The settlement with Wasserman represents a “watershed achievement” in the district's civil healthcare fraud enforcement program, says Robert O'Neill, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida. 

The government previously settled with TPL and Dr. SuarezHoyos for $950,000 to resolve allegations in the lawsuit.

 

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