Five doctors from across the country admitted to “seeking and obtaining kickbacks” for work they didn’t perform from the Malden-based medical supply company SpineFrontier, via IME, a fraud third-party organization, according to a press release Thursday from the District of Massachusetts’ U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Collectively, the physicians will pay $1,557,064 to settle the government’s claims.
“The lawsuit alleges that the defendants made these payments to surgeons to induce them to use SpineFrontier’s devices in spinal surgeries,” the release reads. “The government contends that the defendants violated the Anti-Kickback Statute, and as a result caused federal health care programs to pay millions of dollars in false claims.”
Now, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is filing a civil health care fraud complaint, suing the company and its executives, including its CEO Kingsley Chin, under allegations that they instructed each surgeon to bill “consulting” hours to SpineFrontier for any hour they used the company’s devices, regardless of whether or not they spent time consulting.
“Medical device companies that pay surgeons kickbacks, directly or indirectly, corrupt the market, damage the health care system and jeopardize patient health and safety,” U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling said. “We will pursue aggressively any organization or individual who fails to play by the rules.”
IME allegedly operates through one Florida post office box and, according to the government’s complaint, its only employee is Chin’s wife.
“The government alleges that SpineFrontier and IME paid more than $8 million in kickbacks to surgeons, which generated more than $100 million in revenue, with the vast majority of SpineFrontier’s total domestic sales revenues coming from kickback-tainted surgeries,” the press release read.
Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston division, said doctors “shelved” their ethics once money was put on the table.
“Surgeons have a moral imperative to operate in a trustworthy, transparent manner. No less than people’s lives and safety depend on them,” he said. “Five spine doctors from across the country admitted they prioritized payoffs over patients to enrich themselves and a Malden medical supply company.”
Bonavolonta said the FBI pursues health care fraud because the cost of these crimes affect all taxpayers.
“Cases like this don’t just impact a few people,” he said.
A message left at SpineFrontier’s office by the Associated Press was not immediately returned Friday.