January 24th, 2012

Whistleblower Lawsuit Filed Against 5 Cardiologists in Pennsylvania

The U.S. government has joined a cardiologist in a whistleblower lawsuit against Hamot Medical Center  in western Pennsylvania  and a group of cardiologists with whom he once practiced, Ed Palattella reports in the Erie Times-News.

Cardiologist Tullio Emanuele, who now practices in Kentucky, has accused five former colleagues — members of Medicor Associates Inc. and its affiliate, Flagship Cardiac, Vascular and Thoracic Surgery of Erie — of billing Medicare for unnecessary angioplasty and other procedures. Hamot Medical Center  is now affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

The lawsuit, according to the Times-News, alleges that the contracts the cardiologists had with Hamot Medical Center were “sham arrangements intended to disguise the actual purpose of Hamot to pay kickbacks to Medicor and Flagship CVTS in exchange for patient referrals.”

The case has a strong tie to the much publicized Mark Midei case. One of the lawyers representing Emanuele is Jamie Bennett, who was the assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland who negotiated a $22 million settlement with St. Joseph Medical Center in a similar case alleging kickbacks to Midei’s cardiology group. The investigation in that case ultimately led to the Mark Midei case. Bennett has now entered private practice, where she specializes in whistleblower cases.

The 5 physicians named in the lawsuit are Richard W. Petrella, Robert J. Ferraro, Charles M. Furr, Timothy C. Trageser, and Donald Zone.

An article in Mass Device quoted from the suit: “Beginning in 2004, [Emanuele] began to notice higher rates of intervention among certain physicians in the group. During the period from April 2004 through February 2005, the cath lab activity records show that 4,408 catheterizations were performed and that Drs. Petrella, Trageser and Ferraro had a rate of surgical intervention following catheterization of double the junior members of the group.”

The suit alleges that one patient died after an unnecessary catheterization and another patient following complications from an unnecessary CABG.

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