Four more healthcare providers were indicted last week as part of a pharmacy fraud scheme. Two doctors and two registered nurses in Mississippi allegedly participated in a scheme to defraud TRICARE and a range of private health care benefit programs by prescribing compound medications to patients who didn’t need them. Many of the medications prescribed and filled cost more than $10,000 each. Thirteen other care providers have already been indicted in connection with the scheme, which involved several different pharmacies across the country. Learn more about this shocking conspiracy and those who helped carry it out.
Breaking Down the Latest Charges
The two doctors charged in the conspiracy are Dr. Shahjahan Sultan and Dr. Thomas Edward Sturdavant, while the two nurses are Freda Cal Covington from Hattiesburg and Fallon Deneem Page from Soso.
The full list of charges includes:
- Covington: Conspiracy to commit health care fraud and mail fraud
- Page: Conspiracy to commit health care fraud and two counts of mail fraud
- Dr. Sultan: Conspiracy to commit health care fraud, two counts of mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to distribute and dispense a controlled substance, two counts of distributing and dispensing a controlled substance, one count of conspiracy to pay and receive health care kickbacks and four counts of paying health care kickbacks
- Dr. Sturdavant: Conspiracy to commit health care fraud, two counts of mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to distribute and dispense a controlled substance and two counts of distributing and dispensing a controlled substance
All four subjects have pleaded not guilty and trial dates for Page and Covington are set for August 19th.
Prescribing Medically Unnecessary Medications
According to court documents unsealed last week, Covington, Page, Sultan and Sturdavant were involved in a nation-wide pharmacy fraud scheme, in which healthcare providers prescribed compound medications, including pain creams and vitamin pills, to patients without first examining them.
These medications were prescribed in mass. The doctors and nurses photocopied forms and sent out new prescriptions on auto-refill to help sell as many medications as possible. Many of these medications included ketamine, a controlled substance that’s often used to treat severe depression.
The scheme was designed to maximize profit, according to court documents. Several different pharmacies based in Ocean Springs, MS would fill and dispense these medically unnecessary medications. But, as it turns out, the doctors prescribing these medications also owned and operated the pharmacies filling them. These pharmacies are owned by Pittsburgh Medical Marketing of Ocean Springs and Medical Solutions of Ocean Springs, both of which are owned by Dr. Sultan. Court documents also point to Pittsburgh Medical Marketing and Magnolia Medical Consultants in Harrison County, both of which are owned by Dr. Sturdavant.
TRICARE and private healthcare benefit programs reimbursed one pharmacy more than $7 million for these compound medications. Sultan allegedly paid Sturdavanat to prescribe the medications to TRICARE beneficiaries and to recruit new patients who could be prescribed more medications.
All the businesses mentioned in the case were formed between 2013 and 2014, with the alleged crimes taking place between March 2014 and February 2015. The FBI raided at least one pharmacy connected to the case in Ocean Springs last May.
Assigning Blame in a Complicated Case
From the indictments listed above, we can see that both nurses, Page and Covington, are expected to receive lighter sentences. Prosecutors believe these nurses intentionally broke the law and were then handed multiple charges of mail fraud and conspiracy to commit health care fraud, showing these nurses were aware of the scheme and chose to take part in it. But it remains unclear if either Sultan or Sturdavant paid the nurses to go along with the scheme or whether they did so on their own accord.
This is just the latest money-making healthcare scandal we’ve seen in recent months. Healthcare companies and providers should always put the wellbeing of their patients above profits.