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One of the worst cases of medical malpractice in U.S. history – Part 1

Dr. Farid Fata was considered the gold standard of cancer physicians.

A Sloan-Kettering-trained oncologist and hematologist, he ran Michigan’s largest private cancer practice in several upscale suburban offices.

He claimed a 70% cure rate for blood cancer patients. Many thought of him as a savior.

Dr. Fata used his reputation and his power in a vile insurance scheme. He became a multi-millionaire by poisoning his patients.

More than 500 patients were given unnecessary chemotherapy.

  • Some of Fata’s patients were falsely diagnosed, or misdiagnosed, with blood cancers.
  • Some patients did have cancer- but were purposefully treated for the wrong cancer.
  • Some were massively over-treated: given more expensive and harsh chemotherapy than was necessary.

These weren’t mistakes or subjective errors in medical treatment. At least 553 patients received medically unnecessary infusions or injections, according to federal prosecutors.

In response to specific charges, Fata admitted in court:  “I knew it was medically unnecessary.”

Solving the mysteries of a massive medical malpractice scheme

The scope of this case is shocking. It raises so many questions.

The sentencing hearing answered some, but not nearly all, of the mysteries of this massive medical malpractice case. We can only guess at the rest.

Why would a doctor poison hundreds of patients?

The short answer: money.

Dr. Fata pleaded guilty to multiple charges of Medicare fraud—Medicare and private insurance billing is how he amassed a $17.6 million fortune.

He was sentenced to 45 years in federal prison for what U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade called this “the most egregious case of Medicare fraud we have seen.”

Fata’s office was administering cancer treatments to hundreds of patients who didn’t need them—and billing Medicare.

He would do things like use IV drips instead of injections because he could bill Medicare more for longer treatments. One patient received 260 weeks of chemotherapy where he should only have received 24. He would also refer patients to therapy and hospice facilities that gave him kickbacks for his referrals.

Medicare, unlike private insurers, was forced to use a “pay and chase” strategy when it was implemented. In other words, Medicare rules mandated that the payment to the doctor comes first, and any treatment auditing or recovery comes second.

Incidentally, under the Affordable Care Act, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have new tools to curb fraud and abuse in Medicare.

How did Fata get away with this for so long?

No one stopped him.

There’s no medical police to catch corruption. It usually takes a whistleblower, in the form of a patient or medical professional.

In the end, it was another doctor in the practice who uncovered and reported Fata’s malpractice. The whistleblowing doctor found a patient receiving treatment without actual diagnosis of cancer. He pulled the patients’ record—and found nothing to support the cancer diagnosis. He alerted a practice manager, who contacted the FBI. Fata was arrested a week later.

An oncology nurse had previously filed a complaint, but to no avail. She didn’t even work for Fata, but had come in to interview for a job. The improper mixing of chemotherapy drugs and mistreatment of patients horrified her, and she left after touring the treatment facility. A year after she filed a complaint with the state, she was told there was no substantiation of violations.

I feel this physician is doing more harm than good to his patients and needs to be investigated by the State, OSHA [Occupational Health and Safety Administration], Medicare, and BCBS [Blue Cross Blue Shield].”

Fata headed the largest private cancer practice in Michigan. There had to be a staff of dozens of doctors, interns, nurses and medical assistants.

But only two people ever identified Fata’s ongoing malpractice?

That is unbelievable.

Indeed, one member of Fata’s staff told reporters at the sentencing hearing that Dr. Fata asked her to falsify records and delay scans for patients at other facilities so the scans could be performed and billed at his own clinic. She clearly knew this to be wrong.

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