A Michigan surgeon is today serving 19 years and six months in prison after being convicted of criminal Medicaid fraud. In a separate whistleblower action settled last month, Aria Sabit MD also agreed to pay $899,000 to settled civil charges claiming he defrauded Medicare and Medicaid.
Metropolitan Detroit is a Medicaid fraud hotspot. Dr. Sabit’s conviction adds one more to the area’s already grim statistics.
That Sabit was convicted of defrauding Medicaid comes as no surprise. What is especially depressing, however, is evidence that several patients were harmed and of several hospitals being involved in his outrageous – and dangerous – scheme.
Like many Medicaid fraud cases, this one began by the actions of two former patients turned whistleblowers. Thanks to their quick actions, others were probably spared from horrible pain and suffering.
The heroes of this story are Corey Davis and Lolita Collins, both former patients of Sabit. At the time the case began, Sabit was a neurosurgeon and owner of the Michigan Brain and Spine Physicians Group.
Corey Davis first saw Sabit in 2012. He wanted a second opinion for the minor back pain he was experiencing. His first physician thought the problem could be addressed with physical therapy or medication. However, just to be sure, Davis asked for another opinion from Sabit.
Sabit told Davis that he needed immediate surgery. The surgery was performed less than a week later at Sinai – Grace Hospital. Sabit billed Medicaid for $43,252 for the procedure. According to the billing records, Corey underwent a very complex procedure involving the placement of two metal dowels in his back.
Unfortunately, the surgery was a failure. Davis went in the hospital with minor back pain but came out unable to walk without assistance. Today he is wheelchair bound. Davis saw Dr. Sabit several more times after the surgery but received no answers, just pills.
Davis finally went back to his original doctor, Tejpaul Pannu who ordered fresh films to figure out why Davis was having so much trouble. The answer was shocking. Despite surgical notes and medical records which clearly show that Davis received hardware in his back, the X-rays showed nothing. By then, Dr. Pannu couldn’t help Davis walk again.
Davis wasn’t the only one of Sabit’s patients with a tragic story.
In 2012 another patient went to see Dr. Sabit, Lolita Collins. Sabit told her that she also needed extensive back surgery. On February 12, 2012, Collins underwent spinal surgery at Doctor’s Hospital of Michigan. According to her Medicaid bills and hospital records, she also had surgery involving the placement of metal hardware.
She also suffered complications and was hospitalized for almost a week. When her own physician ordered an MRI, he too found that no hardware was installed.
Many patients complain about fraudulent care or file malpractice complaints, Collins and Davis did more. They filed a whistleblower complaint under the federal False Claims Act. That law allows ordinary citizens to bring an action on behalf of the government against those who abuse Medicaid and Medicare. The two suspected they were not the only ones having problems. They were right.
Their complaints helped start an investigation that ultimately suggested that Sabit billed for unnecessary surgeries at four different Michigan hospitals, Doctor’s Hospital, Sinai Grace Hospital, McLaren Lapeer Regional Medical Center and Huron Valley – Sinai Hospital. He also billed for surgeries that were not even performed as billed.
Once the ball was rolling, authorities acted quickly. Sabit was arrested on November 14, 2014. Just six months later he pled guilty to health care fraud. His reign of horror was finally over.
Sabit was sentenced to prison for 19 years and six months. Medicaid fraud sentences are normally less than 10 years, but judges can sentence longer if patients die or are severely injured because of the fraud.
According to a Justice Department press release, prosecutors say Sabit “derived significant profits by convincing patients to undergo spinal fusion surgeries with instrumentation, which he never rendered, by billing public and private health care benefit programs for those fraudulent services. As part of the scheme, he would operate on the patient and dictate that he had performed a spinal fusion with instrumentation, which he never performed.”
Sabin’s conviction relates to his activities in Michigan, but the FBI says his reign of terror began two years earlier in California. There California authorities revoked Sabit’s license to practice medicine because of “gross negligence and corrupt acts.”
The FBI says that Sabit was the subject of over two dozen medical malpractice lawsuits in California in just an 18 month period of practice there.
What isn’t clear is why four different hospitals in Michigan allowed him to practice. We know from Davis’ case that a hospital nurse and anesthesiologist was present for the surgery. They saw that Sabit billed for surgery involving placement of metal rods knowing this wasn’t done.
All told, four Michigan hospitals - Doctor’s Hospital, Sinai Grace Hospital, McLaren Lapeer Regional Medical Center and Huron Valley – Sinai Hospital – granted Sabit privileges after all his California problems arose.
We are certainly thrilled that Davis and Collins stepped forward to report the fraud. Sadly, none of the nurses or doctors present for Sabit’s phony surgeries did so.
Court records reveal that Sabit is originally a refugee from Afghanistan. His story was one of rags to riches. His life began here as a refugee with no money and culminated with his graduation from medical school in Virginia. Sadly, greed took hold. He quickly began putting profits before patients.
After Sabit was sentenced to nearly twenty years in prison, Detroit’s U.S. Attorney said, “Doctors who lie to their patients about the procedures they have undergone not only obtain funds by fraud but, even worse, they put patients’ health at risk.”
Anyone who believes Medicaid fraud is a victimless crime need only look at this story.
Patients Blowing the Whistle on Medicaid Fraud
Prosecutors were able to get Sabit off the streets quickly, but the whistleblower case didn’t end until 2018. Under the False Claims Act, Davis and Collins are eligible for a reward of between $135,000 and $270,000. Awards are based on a percentage of what the government recovers from the wrongdoer.
The hospitals could be on the hook for even more if it is shown they knowingly allowed the false billing to occur.
Medicaid fraud has reached epidemic proportions. Up to ten cents of every healthcare dollar may be lost to fraud. That amount may be double in places like Miami and Detroit.
And who foots the bill for Medicaid? Taxpayers, of course.
For more information, visit the Michigan Medicaid Fraud information page. Michigan is one of 29 states that also allows the state to issue awards.
Michigan not only pays awards for inside tips regarding Medicaid fraud, but it also has extensive whistleblower protections laws including the Michigan Healthcare Workers Whistleblower Protection law.
If you see something wrong, say something. Medicaid fraud hurts taxpayers, hurts our economy, harms patients and is just plain wrong.
If you know of a healthcare provider that is billing for services never performed or billing for medically unnecessary services, call us. We can assist you in putting an end to the fraud and help you receive a large cash reward for your trouble. Not interested in an award, we can help you get your information to the correct agency.
Connect with us 888.742.7248 or ONLINE.