The federal government is alleging a Florida doctor who was Medicare's highest-paid cardiologist in 2012 induced patients to undergo unnecessary invasive heart testing.
The U.S. Justice Department has joined two lawsuits that allege Dr. Asad Qamar and his physician group, the Institute for Cardiovascular Excellence, billed Medicare for medically unnecessary procedures, including cardiac catheterizations. The procedure involves placing a patient under a large X-ray machine, attaching electrodes connected to an electrocardiogram machine to the patient, inserting a tube into a patient's blood vessel and guiding it to the heart. Radioactive contrast dye is then injected through the catheter to help create images of the heart.
One of the lawsuits also alleges Qamar and his institute routinely waived patients' Medicare copayments and deductible payments so that “patients had no reason to turn down services and would oblige Dr. Qamar's improper recommendation that they consent to all manner of procedures for which there was no medically indicated need,” according to the lawsuit. Qamar and the institute would then bill the government for the full cost of the treatment.
Greg Kehoe, an attorney for Qamar with Greenberg Traurig, defended Qamar in a statement Monday.
“Dr. Qamar practices under the highest medical and ethical standards," Kehoe said in the statement. “Any claims to the contrary are unsubstantiated and the doctor will defend himself vigorously against these baseless allegations.”
In 2012, Qamar received $18 million in Medicare reimbursements, making him the most-reimbursed cardiologist in the country that year, according to one of the lawsuits. The doctor and his institute defrauded the federal government and Florida out of tens of millions of dollars, according to the complaint.
The lawsuits were both filed under the False Claims Act by whistle-blowers, who are entitled to a percentage of the money the government is able to recover.
According to a story published by Reuters, Qamar began a letter-writing campaign in 2013 complaining about an HHS review of billing practices at his institute. Qamar has also been a major donor to Democratic politicians and groups over the years, including Organizing for Action, a group meant to promote President Barack Obama's national agenda, according to Reuters.
Qamar told Reuters he became involved with the group in hopes of spreading the word about the damage caused by slow and unresponsive contractors conducting HHS reviews of medical practices like his.
In April 2014, a lawyer for the institute told The Washington Post for a story about the nation's top Medicare billers that the institute and Qamar “serve a heavily-concentrated Medicare population by providing a variety of state-of-the-art cardiovascular interventional procedures and services to patients with advanced peripheral vascular arterial disease.”
The lawyer, Tracy Mabry, went on to say that all of the institute's claims for cardiovascular procedures and services are “subject to thorough pre-payment review of supporting medical documentation by Medicare's designated contractors serving Florida, and those claims must meet established coverage policies of the Medicare program prior to and as a condition of their payment to ICE [the institute] by Medicare.”
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