Ohio cardiologist Dr. Harold Persaud has been indicted for performing unnecessary medical procedures to overbill Medicare and other insurers, according to a Thursday Justice Department statement.
Persaud also allegedly referred patients for coronary artery bypass surgery who didn’t need it, “which benefitted Persaud by increasing the amount of follow-up testing he could perform and bill to Medicare and private insurers.” Risks associated with this procedure include bleeding, development of blood clots that can lead to heart attack or stroke, infection, pneumonia, difficulty breathing, abnormal heartbeat and, in rare cases, death.
“The charges in this case are deeply troubling,” said U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach. “Inflating Medicare billings alone would be bad enough. Falsifying cardiac care records, making an unnecessary referral for open heart surgery and performing needless and sometimes invasive heart tests and procedures is inconsistent with not only federal law but a doctor’s basic duty to his patients.”
According to the DOJ statement, Persaud allegedly used billing codes for procedures more expensive than the ones he performed, recorded false results of stress tests to justify unnecessary cardiac catheterizations (the insertion of a long, thin tube into a blood vessel in the arm, groin, upper thigh, or neck and threaded to the heart), willfully misdiagnosed patients with lesions and arterial blockage, recorded false symptoms to justify unnecessary tests, inserted cardiac stents in patients who did not have symptoms of blockage and, among other violations, performed unnecessary stents, aortograms (injection of a catheter into the aorta), and renal angiograms (which most commonly involve insertion of catheters into the femoral artery in the groin).
“This doctor violated the sacred trust between doctor and patient by ordering unnecessary tests, procedures and surgeries to line his pockets,” said Stephen Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cleveland Office. “He ripped off taxpayers and put patients’ lives at risk.”
Persaud ran his own clinic in Westlake, Ohio, and had hospital admitting privileges at St John’s Medical Center and Southwest General Hospital. Persaud sued St John’s for defamation last summer. It had sent letters to his former patients informing them that he may have subjected them to unnecessary procedures. “We considered the action of St. John in sending letters to these patients under the circumstances to be outrageous and to create issues where no issues existed,” said his lawyer at the time.
The DOJ statement says that Persaud “overbilled and caused the overbilling of Medicare and private insurers in the amount of approximately $7.2 million, of which Medicare and the private insurers paid approximately $1.5 million, according to the indictment.”
He has been officially charged with “one count of health care fraud, 14 counts of making false statements and one count of engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from criminal activity,” and faces steep fines and jail time if convicted.