The federal government has decided to join a whistleblower lawsuit brought against a Florida doctor, claiming that unnecessary coronary procedures were performed on patients.
The U.S. Department of Justice issued a press release on January 5 announcing it will intervene in two lawsuits filed by whistleblowers against Florida cardiologist Dr. Asad Qamar and the Institute for Cardiovascular Excellence PLLC (ICE).
According to the Justice department and the complaints, Qamar performed unnecessary peripheral artery interventions, and then allegedly paid kickbacks to patients in the form of waiving Medicare copay requirements, which the government views as a form of Medicare fraud.
“Performing medically unnecessary procedures puts patients at risk and contributes to the soaring costs of healthcare,” according to a statement by Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda. “Today’s action evidences the Department of Justice’s efforts to both safeguard federal health care program beneficiaries and to protect public funds.”
The whistleblower lawsuits were filed under the qui tam provision of the False Claims Act by an outside consultant that noticed ICE and Qamar were performing a high number of cardiovascular procedures on blood vessels outside of the heart. Qamar has been under investigation regarding the claims for more than a year.
Under federal law, whistleblowers who expose the fraud against the U.S. government by revealing information not publicly accessible are entitled to a portion of the money recovered. Whistleblowers must be the first to bring the case to the government’s attention and not publicize the lawsuit until the Department of Justice decides whether to join the prosecution of the case.
The lawsuits claim Qamar’s group raked in more than $18 million from Medicare payments and that he frequently induced patients to undergo medically unnecessary procedures by waiving the 20% Medicare copay requirement regardless of their financial hardships.
Qamar has maintained his innocence, denying the charges.
Unnecessary Heart Procedure Concerns
The lawsuit is similar to claims raised several years ago against a Maryland heart surgeon, who was allegedly performing unnecessary coronary stent procedures.
In late 2009 and early 2010, St. Joseph Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland sent letters to more than 600 former patients of Dr. Mark Midei, informing them that a review of their medical records demonstrated that they may have received a heart stent that was unnecessary.
Midei was stripped of his license to practice medicine in Maryland, fired from the hospital and has faced hundreds of lawsuits over unnecessary stents. The then-owners of the hospital, Catholic Health Initiatives, suffered lost revenue, mounting legal fees and other problems resulting from the scandal, and the hospital was ultimately sold to University of Maryland.
“Physicians who try to enrich themselves and their practices by performing medically unnecessary, invasive procedures can cause patients very serious health issues, waste millions in taxpayer dollars each year, and undercut the public’s trust in the medical profession,” Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General said in the press release. “We will continue to work with law enforcement partners to protect beneficiaries and hold health care providers accountable for such outrageous fraud schemes.”