One of the largest settlements with an individual under the False Claims Act (FCA) in U.S. history has been announced by the Department of Justice (DOJ). A Florida dermatologist, Steven J. Wasserman, M.D., has agreed to pay $26.1 million to resolve allegations that he violated the FCA by accepting illegal kickbacks from Tampa Pathology Laboratory (TPL), a clinical laboratory in Tampa, Florida, and billing the Medicare program for medically unnecessary services, according to the announcement. In addition, Dr. Wasserman is being excluded from participation in Medicare, Medicaid, and all other federal health care programs. The United States previously settled with TPL and Dr. José SuarezHoyos, a pathologist and the owner of TPL, for $950,000 to resolve the allegations asserted against them in the same lawsuit.
According to court documents, the government alleged that around 1997, Dr. Wasserman entered into an illegal kickback arrangement with TPL and Dr. SuarezHoyos under which they submitted tens of thousands of false claims to Medicare for biopsies, slide preparations, and slide readings. Under that agreement, Dr. Wasserman allegedly sent biopsy specimens for Medicare beneficiaries to TPL for testing and diagnosis. In return, to increase Dr. Wasserman’s referrals to TPL, TPL allowed Wasserman to bill Medicare for the professional component for the specimen even though TPL had performed the diagnostic work. TPL allegedly provided Dr. Wasserman a diagnosis on a pathology report that included a signature line for Dr. Wasserman to make it appear to Medicare that he had performed the diagnostic work that TPL had performed. Dr. Wasserman then billed the Medicare program for TPL’s work, passing it off as his own, for which he received more than $6 million in Medicare payments.
In addition, the government alleged that Dr. Wasserman substantially increased the number of skin biopsies he performed on Medicare patients, thus increasing the referral business for TPL. Dr. Wasserman also allegedly falsely billed Medicare for patient office visits and unnecessary skin surgeries referred to as adjacent issue transfers on Medicare beneficiaries.