The U.S. Department of Justice today announced a $4.4 million settlement with spine surgeon Wilson Asfora in a whistleblower case.
According to a news release from the Joseph Greenwald & Laake law firm, which represented the whistleblowers, Asfora settled for the $4.4 million sum and a six-year exclusion from all federal payer programs, effectively precluding him from practicing medicine over that period.
Two fellow surgeons filed a False Claims Act complaint as whistleblowers against the South Dakota neurosurgeon in 2016. The whistleblowers alleged that Asfora sold his own medical devices for surgeries he performed, creating an unlawful economic incentive for him to use (and overuse) his own devices on unsuspecting patients.
Included in the allegations was the claim that Asfora performed medically unnecessary spinal fusion surgeries on a number of patients, leading to the whistleblowers attempting to persuade Asfora to cease the unnecessary procedures. When he allegedly refused, the whistleblowers filed the suit, leading to the U.S.’s intervention, which echoed that of the whistleblowers and highlighted a score of warnings Asfora received as the unnecessary surgeries allegedly resulted in patient harm.
“South Dakota is fortunate to have many honest and dedicated healthcare providers who strive daily to provide high-quality services,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota Dennis R. Holmes said in the release. “Dr. Asfora and his companies violated the trust that so many others have worked hard to earn.”
DOJ’s involvement led to the separate October announcement that Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) would pay a total of about $9.2 million to settle improper payment allegations regarding kickbacks for Asfora and the failure to accurately report payments to the neurosurgeon to CMS. Those allegations included payments for social events at the Carnaval Brazilian Grill, a restaurant the company knew Asfora owned, to induce him to use Medtronic’s SynchroMed II implantable intrathecal infusion pumps for delivering medication to patients.
JGL said the whistleblowers’ information led to more than $33 million in recovery for the U.S. government in relation to Asfora’s actions, although the surgeon denied the allegations and defended his claims after he and Sanford Health, the company that employed him, settled with the federal government for $20.25 million.
Asfora later filed his own suit against Sanford, alleging wrongful termination, but dismissed the suit earlier this year. JGL said all pending public actions are now resolved related to Asfora’s alleged actions.