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Doctors Charged in California Spinal Surgery Scam

While we rely on doctors to recommend the best course of treatment, some medical professionals do not always put their patients’ best interests first. In California, several doctors are facing criminal charges for their roles in a spinal surgery scam.

Because the condition can be so debilitating, patients with chronic back pain are often willing to try anything to feel better, including major surgery. Unfortunately, unscrupulous doctors can prey on these emotions to recommend surgeries that may not be warranted just to pad their own pockets.

The Department of Justice recently announced charges in a kickback scheme that generated nearly $600 million in fraudulent billings over an eight-year period. According to prosecutors, the former chief financial officer of a Long Beach, California, hospital, two orthopedic surgeons, and two others have been charged in long-running health care fraud schemes that illegally referred thousands of patients for spinal surgeries.

The charges involve two similar schemes. In the first, thousands of patients were referred to Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, where they underwent spinal surgeries that led to more than $580 million in bills being fraudulently submitted during the last eight years of the scheme alone. The California worker’s compensation system and the federal government paid many of the fraudulent claims. In the second scheme, doctors received illegal kickbacks for referrals to a Hawaiian Gardens hospital.

In both cases, patients were unaware their doctors had been offered kickbacks to refer their surgeries. In some cases, they lived hundreds of miles away from the facility and closer to other qualified hospitals. "Injured workers were treated like livestock by doctors and hospitals who paid or accepted kickbacks and bribes in exchange for referrals," California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said in a statement.

The charges are the result of the federal government’s ongoing investigation into kickback schemes involving spinal surgery, dubbed “Operation Spinal Cap.” All five defendants have agreed to cooperate as the government continues to investigate the healthcare fraud, which reportedly involves dozens of surgeons, orthopedic specialists, chiropractors, marketers and other medical professionals.

When medical professionals commit medical fraud, it can negatively impact their patients. At the Law Offices of Robert Vaage, we understand the various ways you or your family can be harmed due to an unscrupulous medical professional. Don’t hesitate to contact a San medical negligence attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.