A neurosurgeon in Michigan this week was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to a $2.8 million health care fraud scheme in which he performed unnecessary invasive spinal surgeries.
Dr. Aria Sabit plead guilty to 4 counts of health care fraud, 1 count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and 1 count of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, according to a Department of Justice release. Dr. Sabit’s activities resulted in significant losses to Medicare, Medicaid and various private insurance companies.
As part of his guilty plea, Dr. Sabit admitted to receiving nearly $440,000 in financial incentives from Reliance Medical distributor Apex Medical by using more spinal implant devices than medically necessary to treat patients. The excessive use of devices resulted in extra sales revenue for apex, but also in serious bodily injuries to treated patients.
In his case, Dr. Sabit also admitted to convincing patients to undergo spinal fusion surgeries with devices designed to stabilize and strengthen the spine which he never performed. He did, however, bill public and price healthcare programs for the fraudulent services.
Dr. Sabit also admitted that, on select occasions, the money he received from Apex motivated him to “refer patients for unnecessary spine surgeries or for more complex procedures that they did not need,” according to the DoJ release.
In addition to the federal case, Dr. Sabit is still a defendant in 2 pending civil False Claims Act cases in the Central District of California.
The case ties into a 2014 case against Reliance Medical Systems, in which federal investigators claimed they had evidence that they have evidence that the company’s owners devised a kickback scheme to induce doctors to use Reliance spinal implants, even sometimes when patients didn’t need the procedure.
The Justice Dept. accused Reliance owners Brett Berry, John Hoffman and Adam Pike of using the company to create a physician-owned distributorship to funnel illegal payments to several physicians to reward them for using Reliance spinal implants.
“Allegedly, Reliance’s owners were recorded telling a potential Kronos investor that Reliance was formed as part of a plan to ‘get around’ the federal Anti-Kickback Statute, which prohibits such improper payments, and that Reliance pays its physician-investors enough in the first month or 2 to ‘put their kids through college,'” the DoJ reported.