Dermatologist To Pay $26 Million Settlement
VENICE, FL. -- Steven J. Wasserman, M.D., a dermatologist practicing in Venice, Fla., has agreed to pay $26.1 million to resolve allegations that he violated the False Claims Act by accepting illegal kickbacks from a pathology laboratory and by billing the Medicare program for medically unnecessary services, the Justice Department announced today.
The government alleged that, in or around 1997, Dr. Wasserman entered into an illegal kickback arrangement with Tampa Pathology Laboratory (TPL), a clinical laboratory in Tampa, Fla., and Dr. José SuarezHoyos, a pathologist and the owner of TPL, in an effort to increase the lab’s referral business.
The government further alleged that, in addition to his involvement in the alleged kickback scheme, Dr. Wasserman also performed thousands of unnecessary skin surgeries known as adjacent tissue transfers on Medicare beneficiaries. Adjacent tissue transfers are complicated and often time-consuming procedures physicians sometimes use to close a defect resulting from the removal of a growth on a patient’s skin. The government alleged that Dr. Wasserman performed many of these procedures in order to obtain the reimbursement for them, and not because they were medically necessary.
The allegations resolved by today’s settlement were initiated by a lawsuit originally filed in the District Court for the Middle District of Florida by Alan Freedman, M.D., a pathologist who formerly worked at TPL. Dr. Freedman filed the lawsuit under the qui tam, or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act. Under the False Claims Act, a private party may file suit on behalf of the United States for false claims and share in any recovery. The United States has the right to intervene in the action, which it did in this case, filing its own complaint in October 2010. Dr. Freedman will receive $4,046,000 of today’s settlement.
The United States previously settled with TPL and Dr. SuarezHoyos for $950,000 to resolve the allegations asserted against them in the same lawsuit.
The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability. The lawsuit is captioned U.S. ex rel. Freedman v. SuarezHoyos et al., No. 04-933 (M.D. Fla.).