Doctors often order an array of tests for patients with unknown medical conditions in efforts to narrow the diagnoses possibilities. Typically, this is done out of an abundance of caution rather than effort to bill patients for unnecessary tests or procedures. Unfortunately, there is potential for abuse in medical testing, which was recently proven when nine New York doctors admitted to taking cash payoffs from a medical lab to order tests.
All physicians, along with about a dozen employees from Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services, were arrested in connection to the bribery scandal with many more expected. Illegal payoffs of this kind can be prosecuted in several different realms: first, federally, if the government (through Medicare or Medicaid) was ever billed for the unnecessary tests, and if any other federal laws were broken in the process; second, civilly, if any individual patient was ever harmed, financially or physically, by the tests.
Numerous employees of Biodiagnostic Labs, located in Parsippany, NJ, admitted to visiting doctors and paying them large amounts to refer business to the company, ultimately totaling as much as $100 million. One doctor in particular, who practices out of Morris County, NJ, received $1.8 million for referring blood tests to Biodiagnostic.
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That doctor, Frank Santangelo, pleaded guilty in federal court in July 2013 and was charged with violating the Travel Act, failing to file tax returns, and money laundering. The Travel Act mandates that anyone who travels between states or internationally, or uses the mail to “distribute, commit, promote, manage, establish, carry on, or facilitate,” any unlawful activity can be charged criminally.
According to FBI documents, Dr. Santangelo sent text messages to the president of Biodiagnostic Labs, David Nicoll, which referred to ordering unnecessary blood tests in exchange for monetary bribes. In one particularly damning conversation, Santangelo told Nicoll he and another physician had put their heads together to add a significant amount of testing amounting to about $1 million per month.
This is exactly the type of fraudulent behavior that is driving up healthcare costs in the U.S., causing crises in medical areas across the board. Doctors are entrusted with an incredible amount of responsibility and trust, and patients should never have to wonder if the tests they are given are medically necessary and conducted by the most-qualified providers. This level of corruption not only drives up national healthcare costs but compromises patient wellbeing for nothing more than personal financial greed.
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Patient-doctor trust is critical to the stability of our nation’s healthcare system, and violations of that trust jeopardize the integrity of physicians, providers, and healthcare professionals everywhere. Another doctor recently charged in connection to the Biodiagnostic bribes is Dr. Gary Leeds of Greenwich, NY. Dr. Leeds is one physician most assume would be least likely to be caught in an ethics scandal – he graduated medical school from Brown University and did his residency at Georgetown. Now, however, he is facing five years in prison for taking bribes.
A report by NBC New York estimates that the actual number of doctors involved in the bribery scheme may be in the hundreds. So far, only nine have been charged. FBI agents raided Biodiagnostic facilities in April 2013, and are currently going through internal documents and records to charge physicians.
Medical malpractice attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm urge all patients to be thorough when looking into their physicians’ backgrounds, especially if they are planning to undergo any extensive or particularly serious surgical procedures. If you or a loved one was seriously injured by testing procedures you believe were medically unnecessary, contact our firm today for a free legal consultation.