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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Westport Doctor Sentenced to Probation

A Westport pediatrician was sentenced today to three years probation and a $10,000 fine on charges of defrauding the Medicaid program and private health insurance companies as well as on tax evasion charges.

Suvarna Shah, 63, of 5 Pier Way Landing, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Christopher F. Droney in Hartford, according to Kevin J. O’Connor, U.S. Attorney for Connecticut.

Shah, who practiced in Norwalk, as a result of her conviction faces likely deportation, O’Connor said. She is a native of India. He said she will also likely be barred from submitting claims to the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs.

The physician had previously entered into a civil settlement agreement in which she agreed to pay $317,925.88 to the federal and state governments, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

She had also provided restitution in the amount of $229,194.86 to private insurance companies as well for claims she submitted for vaccines she received free-of-charge from the Vaccines For Children program, a statement said.

In addition, Shah paid $682,595.16 to the Internal Revenue Service to settle her liability, including interest and penalties, for tax evasion for the years 1996 through 2001.

Under the federal sentencing guidelines, Shah had faced a sentence of 18 to 24 months imprisonment.

In departing downward from the recommended sentencing range, Droney cited the “truly exceptional” contributions Shah had made by providing medical services to the under-served South Norwalk community, and that Shah was forced to close her medical practice, and will likely be deported, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

“Health care providers who commit fraud face severe penalties,” O’Connor said.“This office will not hesitate to prosecute such conduct.”

The official said the case is part of “Operation Free Shot,” an investigation by the Health Care Fraud Task Force. 

The program focuses on Connecticut health care providers who bill Medicaid and other insurance programs for childhood vaccines the providers received free-of-charge from the Vaccines For Children (VFC) program, a joint federal/state program that provides childhood immunizations, O’Connor said.

Under the VFC Program, doctors and other health care providers receive free vaccines distributed by the Department of Public Health, and agree not to bill Medicaid or any other third-party for the cost of the vaccines. 

The provider may recover a minimal fee for administrative costs associated with inoculating a child. 

In violation of these rules, Shah billed Medicaid and other insurance plans for the vaccine doses she received free from the VFC Program, the U.S. Attorney said.

From 1997 through 2002, she received more than $350,000 from Medicaid and private insurance companies for vaccines she received free-of-charge from the VFC program, O’Connor said.

O’Connor noted that “Operation Free Shot” involved coordination among various federal and state authorities and agencies, and praised the cooperation and assistance from all involved. 

“An integrated approach to fighting health care fraud is a powerful deterrent,” said O’Connor. “And Connecticut intends to lead the nation in aggressively investigating and prosecuting such cases.” 

He urged anyone with information of health care fraud to contact the FBI Health Care Fraud hotline at (203) 785-9270.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys David J. Sheldon of the Criminal Division, and Richard M. Molot of the Civil Division, and auditor Susan Spiegel.

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Posted 06/29/05 at 09:18 PM  Permalink