Published: Thursday, July 13, 2017 @ 11:45 AM
Updated: Thursday, July 13, 2017 @ 6:39 PM
By: Mark Gokavi, Katie Wedell - Staff Writers
— A Springfield cardiologist and his wife were two of hundreds of defendants federally charged with health care fraud after a massive investigation.
The indictments were part of an initiative announced Thursday by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
Dr. Salim Dahdah, the owner of the Ohio Institute of Cardiac Care in Springfield, and his wife, Cindy Dahdah, both were charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, health care fraud and making false statements, according to an affidavit filed in Dayton’s U.S. District Court.
The indictment against the Dahdahs alleges that the doctor and his wife — who owns and operates Accubil, a company that handles the billing for OICC — received more than $2 million from Medicare and Medicaid for medically unnecessary nuclear stress tests and medically unnecessary coronary interventions such as pacemaker insertion and stent procedures, according to a Deptartment of Justice press release.
Messages left for the Dahdahs were not immediately returned.
Nationally, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force charged 412 defendants in 41 federal districts, including 115 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving approximately $1.3 billion in false billings.
Of those charged nationally, over 120 defendants, including doctors, were charged for prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics.
In announcing the action, Sessions called it the, “largest health care fraud takedown operation in American history” and said it indicates that some doctors, nurses and pharmacists “have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients.”
In one local case, Salim Dahdah allegedly told a patient in his 30s he needed an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator or he would die, court documents said. The patient got a second opinion and needed a second heart surgery to remove the device.
The indictment against Salim Dahdah indicated he first incorporated a medical business in 1986 and also had an office in Dayton. It said Dahdah focused on treating elderly and poor patients who suffered from cardiac-related illnesses.
The Dahdahs allegedly conspired to defraud health care benefit programs by billing for medically unnecessary medical tests and procedures from May 2, 2007, until Jan. 13, 2015, according to court documents.
On Jan. 21, 2015, one of Salim Dahdah’s two offices in Springfield was raided by agents from the FBI, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General. A month later, he was suspended from submitting Medicaid claims.
The practice soon moved out of that office, but continued to operate out of a building the Dahdahs owned on South Limestone Street through October when the building was sold. OICC then opened another Springfield office at 2200 N. Limestone St.
“It was further part of the scheme that to ensure that OICC testing protocols would be strictly followed, defendant Cindy Dahdah would reprimand, humiliate or threaten to terminate employees who refused to schedule medical tests according to OICC protocols,” the indictment said, later stating that she would “send intimidating emails to pressure staff to schedule tests according to protocols regardless of whether the test was ordered by a treating physician or medically necessary.”
The health care conspiracy and health care fraud charges carry penalties up to 10 years in prison and the false statements charge carries a maximum sentence of five years.
“Health care fraud creates victims out of patients, providers, and taxpayers,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Benjamin Glassman said. “It’s a crime that breaks the bonds of trust between doctor and patient, and between government and the people, just for the sake of personal greed.”
Nationally, nearly 300 health care providers are being suspended or banned from participating in federal health care programs, Sessions said.
“They seem oblivious to the disastrous consequences of their greed. Their actions not only enrich themselves, often at the expense of taxpayers, but also feed addictions and cause addictions to start,” Sessions said.
“The charges announced today should send a strong message to criminals that theft from vital health care programs will not be tolerated,” said Lamont Pugh of HHS Office of Inspector General. “The OIG and our law enforcement partners will continue to be vigilant in our efforts to protect tax payer dollars that are intended to aid our most vulnerable citizens.”
The other three defendants in the Southern District of Ohio — Darrell Bryant, Gifty Kusi (Bryant’s wife) and Dr. Jornel Rivera — worked at the Health and Wellness Pharmacy in Dublin.
An indictment alleges those three defendants fraudulently received more than $3 million from the Ohio Department of Medicaid and Medicaid Managed Care Organizations through multiple schemes.
“Both of these cases are egregious,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “In the OICC case, the investigation found that patients underwent dangerous and completely unnecessary medical procedures.”