How a national fraud cost Medicare millions before a Hilton Head doctor exposed it
A Kentucky doctor has been sentenced to three years and six months in prison in a case in which he was accused of implanting pacemakers that weren’t medically necessary in order to make money.
Dr. Anis Chalhoub also was ordered to pay a total of $257,515 in restitution to insurance companies and taxpayer-funded health programs.
In addition, U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove fined Chalhoub $50,000 during a sentencing hearing Tuesday in federal court in London.
“You’ve engaged in conduct that has harmed our community,” Van Tatenhove told Chalhoub.
Chalhoub will likely appeal his conviction.
Van Tatenhove told Chalhoub to report to prison Jan. 8. If he appeals, he could ask to remain free while the case is pending.
Chalhoub, 60, was a cardiologist in London for years, practicing at Saint Joseph-London during a period when the hospital and doctors there allegedly took part in performing hundreds of unnecessary heart procedures.
Saint Joseph Health Systems agreed in January 2014 to pay $16.5 million to settle allegations that it engaged in a scheme to pump up revenue by billing federally-funded health programs for unnecessary procedures from January 2008 to August 2011.
That was before the company merged with two others in 2012 to form KentuckyOne Health.
Chalhoub allegedly implanted pacemakers into patients who didn’t need them between March 2007 and July 2011.
Chalhoub implanted about 230 pacemakers at the hospital in that time, U.S. Attorney Robert M. Duncan Jr. said in a news release.
Chalhoub’s attorneys argued that the procedures he performed were medically necessary, that he acted in good faith, and that prosecutors and juries are ill-qualified to second-guess medical decisions.
However, prosecutors argued Chalhoub knowingly implanted pacemakers into people who didn’t need them.
One doctor who testified for the prosecution said that of files he reviewed on 31 of Chalhoub’s patients, 27 didn’t need the pacemaker he implanted, according to a court record.
Several patients testified they felt Chalhoub pressured them into getting pacemakers, telling them they would die without the procedure.
A jury convicted Chalhoub of health fraud in April.
In letters to Van Tatenhove, several colleagues and family members described Chalhoub as a competent, conscientious physician who cared about helping patients.
“Despite how the offense has been portrayed, Dr. Chalhoub has devoted his life to his family and to healing those in need,” defense attorneys said in one document.
One of Chalhoub’s attorneys, J. Guthrie True, said a sentence of 10 months would be sufficient, noting the doctor will also be punished by losing his medical license.
But prosecutors told the judge Chalhoub should spend more time behind bars, arguing he put patients at risk of infection and other problems through invasive procedures that weren’t needed and sometimes led to painful complications.
The pacemakers “will adversely impact these patients’ lives as they age and may compromise their ability to seek certain medical treatments in the future,” assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrew E. Smith and Paul C. McCaffrey said in a sentencing memorandum.
Former patients of Chalhoub told the judge how getting unneeded pacemakers had affected them.
Former coal miner Mark Meadows, for instance, told Van Tatenhove the experience had helped doom his marriage of 30 years and eroded his trust in doctors.
“It’s a dirty low-down rotten shame,” he said.