The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida has reached a false claims settlement agreement with a popular Orlando-based dermatology clinic known as Associates in Dermatology. The lawsuit was filed by three former employees of the clinic who had firsthand knowledge of the type of fraudulent misconduct occurring within.
According to a recent press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, the three relators were awarded $500,000 to split as a result of their willingness to come forward with allegations of false claims and billing. The case represents the government’s steadfast efforts in reducing and eliminating costly Medicare and Medicaid fraud, particularly with regard to billing for patient care that does not meet minimum federal guidelines, as is alleged in today’s case.
Details of the allegations against Associates in Dermatology
Associates in Dermatology maintains multiple clinics across Central Florida, including in Clermont and Sumterille. The clinic, which is owned and managed by Dr. Michael Steppie, performs a number of dermatological treatments on patients covered by Medicare or Medicaid. As such, certain federal and state guidelines must be followed by the staff members, including the maintenance of proper licensure and following proper protocols when performing sensitive epidermal procedures.
According to the allegations, Dr. Steppie failed to follow basic regulations by allowing unlicensed, untrained, and unsupervised staff members to perform highly technical procedures. For example, the allegations reveal that Dr. Steppie routinely allowed unlicensed medical assistants to perform radiation therapy on patients – often without adequate supervision. According to the whistleblowers’ assertions, the medical assistants lacked “basic knowledge” of how to perform radiation therapy and should not have been permitted to perform this type of procedure on patients without the proper training.
In a separate allegation, the clinic is alleged to have consistently arranged for the destruction of skin lesions on Medicare and Medicaid patients when such a procedure was not medically necessary. What’s more, when the government and whistleblower’s counsel attempted to review the details of these medically unnecessary procedures, it became apparent that the clinic did not keep adequate or detailed documentation of the procedures, which is a violation of federal regulations as well.
The whistleblowers contend that this misconduct occurred for several years, primarily between 2009 and 2013.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office commented on the case by stating:
“The United States Attorney’s Office is committed to taking the necessary steps to protect Medicare, TRICARE, and other federal healthcare programs from fraud… By bringing FCA cases such as this, we recover funds obtained through fraud and deter others from attempting similar schemes.”
Likewise, the Department of Health and Human Services stated:
“This case underscores how important it is for healthcare providers to properly document the services they bill to Medicare… We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to protect the integrity of federal healthcare programs.”
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