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MI Physician Faces 20 Years in Prison

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, August 4, 2011

A Michigan physician faces 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to four felony counts involving drug trafficking, taking kickbacks, and healthcare fraud, federal prosecutors said.

Gwendolyn Washington, MD, admitted to running a lucrative and diversified criminal enterprise from her Southfield, MI, offices.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit offered a long summation of the conviction plea accepted by Washington, 67, who will be sentenced on Oct. 5 in U.S. District Court.

First, Washington admitted that between 2004 and 2010, she performed unnecessary ultrasounds, nuclear cardiac stress tests, balance tests, sleep tests, and nerve conduction tests on patients, who were told to come back every few months for repeat tests, even though initial results were normal. Washington billed Medicare and Blue Cross and Blue Shield more than $5 million for these tests, some of which were potentially harmful to patients. Nuclear stress tests, for example, use intravenous injections of radionuclide, which emits radiation.

Second, Washington falsely certified patients as being homebound, in return for kickbacks from home healthcare agencies of $200 to $500 per patient. Washington got $350,000 in total kickbacks. Medicare paid $2.8 million to agencies receiving the bogus referrals. Washington got another $250,000 directly from Medicare for false certifications of patients for home health services.

Third, Washington admitted to two drug offenses. In February 2010, when Medicare stopped paying Washington—resulting in a drastic reduction in her income—she began writing prescriptions for tens of thousands of doses of OxyContin, Opana ER, and Roxicodone.

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