A nationwide telemedicine kickback scheme led to fraudulent Medicare reimbursements for durable medical equipment and genetic testing. The full Department of Justice press release can be found here.

Fraudulent Telemedicine Orders

From June 2018 through September 2020, a Georgia Nurse, known as “Nurse Robin,” and her co-conspirators recruited physicians and other medical professionals to sign orders for orthotic braces, pain creams, and genetic testing. Nurse Robin told the physicians that her team of nurses would contact patients to conduct telemedicine exams on behalf of the physicians.

In fact, there was no team of nurses. According to court documents, the conspirators had targeted elderly Medicare beneficiaries through a series of call centers to obtain their identities and insurance information. They falsified the beneficiaries’ medical histories and examinations in the orders that the physicians signed. Nurse Robin and her co-conspirators then paid the physicians for signing the orders.

The result was thousands of fraudulent orders billed to Medicare and Medicaid, resulting in over $1.5 billion in losses to the federal programs from the thirty-three defendants in the Southern District of Georgia, alone. As the investigation is still ongoing, the true amount of loss is likely greater.

The Aftermath

Nurse Robin pled guilty to the conspiracy and faces a possible statutory sentence of up to five years in prison without parole, financial penalties, restitution and up to three years of supervised release.

Both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Justice made their stance on telemedicine fraud clear. Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge for the Office of Inspector General of the HHS, stated, “Telemedicine has become a valuable tool for delivering health services in this time of pandemic. However, bad actors are abusing these tools to commit health care fraud. When marketing and so-called telehealth services are misused, alleged violators can expect aggressive investigation and swift prosecution.” Acting U.S. Attorney Estes said, “Telemedicine has played an increasingly important role in providing accessible healthcare, particularly during the pandemic. With our law enforcement partners, we will continue to work diligently to identify and shut down those who would attempt to use technology and deceit to defraud taxpayer funded safety net programs.”

As the prevalence of telemedicine continues, providers should ensure compliance of their business arrangements to prepare for increased scrutiny. Should you have any questions regarding the compliance of your business arrangements, please contact Anahita Anvari, Edward J. Cyran or any member of the Fox Rothschild Health Law Group.