indica News Bureau-
Federal prosecutors have charged the Bay Area’s largest home healthcare provider and its CEO, Ridhima Singh, with paying doctors millions of dollars in kickbacks in a scheme to game the Medicare system, The Mercury News has reported.
The indictments were read on Sept 5 against Amity Home Health Care, CEO Ridhima Singh, related company Advent Care, and more than two dozen doctors, nurses and other healthcare personnel.
According to David Anderson, US attorney for the Northern District of California. Amity funneled $8 million in bribes—in the form of NBA tickets, designer bags and even “envelopes of cash”—to these personnel in the South and East Bay to refer patients to the company. Those patients brought $115 million in Medicare funds for Amity Home Health Care and Advent Care.
The defendants were recorded by law enforcement officers offering, accepting or approving illegal payments, according to the complaints. Federal law prohibits any healthcare-related kickbacks. Some of the payments were disguised as reimbursements, donations or payroll.
“These doctors and healthcare professionals sold patients like commodities, placing their own financial gains over the wellbeing of their patients and betraying the basic principles of their profession,” said Craig Fair, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s deputy special agent in charge of San Francisco.
Ridhima Singh was also charged with making false statements and tampering with witnesses. Several of the defendants, including Ridhima Singh, were arrested and released on bond after their first court appearance in San Francisco on Sept 5, while others were presented the following week.
A line of doctors and medical executives with crumpled clothes and ruffled hair looked stunned as Judge Joseph C Spero read out the charges. They didn’t enter any pleas.
Home health work—including hospice aides taking care of people near the end of their life and in-home nurses attending to sick patients—is among the faster growing employment fields in the US. The industry’s rapid expansion makes it “ripe for the potential of fraud”, Anderson said.
The investigation began after a complaint to the Department of Health and Human Services in July 2016 and involved multiple cooperating witnesses inside the scheme, undercover FBI agents acting as corrupt health executives, and a wiretap of Ridhima Singh’s iPhone that showed her discussing kickback payments, the indictments said.
Ridhima Singh, who lives in Livermore, repeatedly pushed associates to get her more patient referrals. “It’s been so many years and i know you are aware of what the expectations are,” she texted one associate in November 2018, according to the complaint. “I’m not here to fight I’m pretty clear cut and u know that. I’m drama free but things can get to my nerve when I don’t see the mutual understanding.”
The prosecutors have not accused any of the patients of being involved in the scheme. Nor have they claimed that the patients were treated poorly by Amity or Advent. But it was the network of bribery that enabled Amity to become the region’s largest home healthcare provider, they said.
The individuals charged with accepting kickbacks are 13 doctors, five nurses and one social worker. In addition to about $6 million paid in cash, the defendants allegedly received gifts like Louis Vuitton bags, tickets to Golden State Warriors games, trips to Las Vegas, and expensive dinners.
The doctors charged are Bhupinder Bhandari of Pleasanton; Andre Gay of Union City; Mariam Hasan of Milpitas; Kimberly Hicks of Oakland; Yelena Kabanskaya of San Jose; April Mancuso of Los Gatos; Gerald Myint of Union City; Tam Nguyen of San Jose; Juan Posada of Cupertino; Kerisimasi Reynolds of Los Gatos; Scott Taylor of Oakland; Henry Watson of Oakland; and Zheng Zhang of Saratoga. The nurses are Catherine Cariaga of Fremont; Mervina Deguzman of San Jose; Belinda Roy of Fremont; Stella Teodoro of Union City; and Terence Tirona of Hayward.
If convicted, each faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of $100,000. Ridhima Singh would be subject to steeper penalties under her additional charges.
Judge Spero suggested the case could take a while to be heard and urged the defendants not to violate the terms of their bonds. “A complicated case like this could take years,” he told Ridhima Singh, “and you don’t want to be sitting in a jail cell.”