Two more cardiologists accused in N.J. hospital kickback scheme

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The federal government has filed separate lawsuits against two cardiologists accused of earning money as part of an illegal kickback scheme designed to bolster a struggling cardiac-surgery program at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in Newark, N.J., which has already led to the criminal convictions of two other cardiologists.

Last week, the U.S. Attorney's Office filed a suit against Atul Prakash, MD, of Cedar Grove, N.J., alleging he violated federal Medicare statutes, committed fraud and submitted false statements by illegally referring more than 30 patients to UMDNJ's University Hospital, in return for $119,000 in payments, the Star-Ledger reported.

Additionally, Joseph Campbell of Orange, N.J., was accused Wednesday of filing false reports and illegally referring Medicare-eligible patients to the main teaching hospital of the UMDNJ in 2003. In return for the referrals, the suit says that Campbell was paid $75,000, according to the Ledger

From these cardiologists, the two suits seek three times reimbursement of Prakash and Campbell's salary, the Ledger reported. Also, the U.S. Attorney is seeking financial penalties that could exceed $2.5 million from Prakash, and $210,000 in penalties from Campbell.

The illegal kickback scheme was hatched as part of an effort to enhance a cardiac-surgery program that had been on state probation for several years. In return for patient referrals, UMDNJ entered into contracts with at least 16 community physicians, each of whom was paid a salary and given the title of clinical assistant professor, the Ledger said.

The former chief of the cardiology division, who later filed a whistleblower suit against UMDNJ and who oversaw the university's finances and administration for two years, revealed the scheme.

The federal monitor, former federal Judge Herbert J. Stern, concluded that the cardiologists hired by the university were expected to do nothing more than bring patients into the heart surgery program that was at risk of losing its state accreditation.