July 14—an update to this story: Cancer doctor’s fraud sends him to prison
I read a news story out of Michigan yesterday that almost made me literally sick:
[Dr. Farid] Fata’s Michigan Hematology and Oncology Inc. (MHO) was the state’s largest private cancer practice in 2013, with clinics in seven cities, its own pharmacy and diagnostic center, and 1,700 patients, virtually all of them assigned to Fata, the tireless physician. Those who needed proof of Fata’s dedication could look to the doctor’s work ethic — he often labored past midnight — or to the Swan for Life Foundation, a charity Fata established to help cancer patients and their families.
Today, MHO is gone and Fata is behind bars, awaiting sentencing for at least $34 million in fraudulent Medicare billings and a kickback scheme with a hospice. The criminal counts only hint at the human suffering behind the financial damages…
The deception was discovered by accident—one of Dr. Fata’s patients fell and broke her leg. While she was in the hospital, Dr. Soe Maunglay questioned her original diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, for which she was being given an aggressive and expensive ($4,000/month) course of chemotherapy.
Because Maunglay is a cancer doctor, he paid heed to her multiple myeloma diagnosis, the Velcade injection, and the medical record before him. It all triggered an internal alarm.
“Who told you that you have cancer?” he asked her.
Maunglay was stunned by what the hospital chart suggested. A cancer-free patient being given chemotherapy wasn’t negligence; it was an atrocity.
The patient had been told she would be receiving chemotherapy for the rest of her life. Dr. Fata deliberately and cruelly fabricated her cancer diagnosis so that he could bill her insurance company and the “money stream could flow” for as long as she survived. And as she didn’t actually have multiple myeloma, she could live for a long time until eventually the chemo killed her.
(She initially saw Dr. Fata because of a slight abnormality on some lab work, which Dr. Maunglay recognized as NOT being diagnostic of multiple myeloma.)
This story is an extreme example of how bad physicians are allowed to practice in our communities. Although colleagues might suspect or even be aware of a physician’s poor skills, substance abuse, or fraudulent billing practices, they say nothing. They simply refer their patients elsewhere.
Maunglay alone among Fata’s former associates is willing or ready to speak publicly, while at least two dozen lawsuits target professionals associated with the practice.
Many patients now owe their lives to Dr. Maunglay’s courage in speaking out.
The entire article reads like a medical/legal thriller, but the takeaway message in my opinion is that the burden is on you, the patient, to do your homework when choosing a physician and a treatment.
Most of the physician-search tools online allow you to look up credentials, license details and any history of malpractice suits. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing.
Related post: Need a new doctor?
And ask questions. Take close friends and family members with you to appointments so they can ask questions, too. Don’t be rushed into a treatment (unless it’s immediately life threatening, of course). With most cancers, you can take several weeks to explore your options and learn more about your diagnosis and any proposed treatments.
Related post: Choosing a cancer treatment center
If you are uncomfortable with the physician and feel he or she is not listening to you or explaining your options clearly, or if the proposed treatment seems overly aggressive or expensive (or perhaps not aggressive enough), make an appointment for a second opinion.
Insurance might not cover it, but it could be money well spent.
I’m sure the patient in the story wishes she had gotten a second opinion.
[She] despaired before every test, even fighting the diagnosis. “People would ask me how I was feeling. I felt fine. I had no symptoms!” she said.
When she complained to Fata about the invasive testing, he shrugged. She was angry about her diagnosis, he said, prescribing 25 doses of Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug.
Aargh. Like I said, it makes me sick.