Indian-American cardiologist convicted in $13m fraud case, faces ten-year sentence

An Indian-American cardiologist of Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania, was convicted by a federal jury of two counts of health care fraud involving more than $13 million of insurance billings, including to Medicaid and Medicare, prosecutors announced June 14.

The jury found Samirkumar J. Shah 56, guilty after deliberating for two hours. He was tried before United States District Judge David S. Cercone in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Judge Cercone set sentencing for Nov. 6, 2019. The law provides for a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both.

The prosecutors said evidence introduced during the eight-day trial established that between 2008 and 2013, Shah submitted “fraudulent claims” to private insurance companies, including Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, UPMC Health Plan, and Gateway Health Plan as well as to government insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid, for an outpatient treatment known as External Counter Pulsation, or ECP.

ECP involves the use of a specialized bed equipped with pressure cuffs, which exert pressure upon patients’ lower extremities as a means to increase blood flow to the heart.

The evidence at trial demonstrated that insurers only reimbursed for ECP treatments of patients who suffered from disabling angina — or chest pain caused by decreased blood flow to the heart — and only when a physician supervised the treatment.

Shah, according to the prosecutor’s office, purchased a total of 25 beds and offered ECP to patients at more than 18 locations in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Florida. The evidence also showed that, in order to acquire new patients, Shah advertised ECP as “the Fountain of Youth,” and claimed that it made patients "younger and smarter," and offered the treatment for a range of ailments other than disabling angina, including obesity, migraines, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, diabetes, and erectile dysfunction.

After signing up new patients, including many patients who never experienced chest pain, Shah instructed his employees to indicate that every patient had disabling angina on billing sheets that were used to support false insurance claims. In certain instances, Shah never met patients for whom he billed for ECP treatments.

The evidence also showed that patients were required to undergo certain diagnostic ultrasounds as a precautionary measure prior to starting ECP — in part to rule out blood clots that could cause a stroke or heart attack during the treatment. Nevertheless, witness testimony established that Shah did not review any of the ultrasound imagery before approving new patients to begin ECP.

Scott W. Brady, United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, said in a press release that contrary to health insurance requirements, ECP treatments routinely occurred while neither Shah nor any other medical doctor was present at his various locations. On one such occasion, a patient experienced an adverse event during his ECP treatment and had to be transported via ambulance to the hospital.

In addition to billing for ECP treatments that were not medically necessary and were not provided under direct physician supervision, Shah also double-billed insurers by using a so-called “bundled” ECP code, which accounted for and included payment for various incidental procedures, and then separately submitted claims for the same included procedures.

The prosecutor said the evidence at trial further established that during reviews initiated by various insurers, Shah routinely submitted fabricated patient files and made false statements concerning his practice, his patient population, his record keeping, and his compliance with applicable coverage guidelines.

During the period of his scheme, Shah submitted ECP-related claims for Medicare, Medicaid, UPMC, Highmark, and Gateway beneficiaries, totaling more than $13 million and that he received reimbursement payments in excess of $3.5 million.

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