Cancer doc admits guilt in unnecessary chemo scheme

Michigan oncologist Farid Fata, M.D., awaiting trial for orchestrating a multi-million dollar Medicare fraud scheme, entered a surprise guilty plea yesterday to 13 counts of healthcare fraud, two counts of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Fata listed many drugs he prescribed for patients, and in each admission he said, "I knew that it was medically unnecessary."

Fata faces sentencing in February, the article noted, and U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade plans to request life in prison.

"In this case, we had Dr. Fata administering chemotherapy to people who didn't need it, essentially putting poison into their bodies and telling them that they had cancer when they didn't have cancer," McQuade told the newspaper. "The idea that a doctor would lie to a patient just to make money is shocking … Dr. Fata was unique in that he saw patients not as people to heal, but as commodities to exploit."

Fata collected over $10 million from Medicare in 2012 and was the highest paid oncologist out of more than 7,300 specialists in his field, as FierceHealthPayer: AntiFraud reported.

Another surprising development in this case was that a nurse blew the whistle on Fata in a formal complaint to Michigan's medical licensing bureau three years before the doctor's arrest, WDIV-TV reported.

Fata's practice was "almost like a chemo mill," nurse Angela Swantek told the station. But the state's investigation of Fata's practice was not approved or completed until a full year after Swantek's written report, WDIV noted.  

"I handed them [state authorities] Dr. Fata on a platter and they did absolutely nothing," Swantek told the Free Press.

Understaffing may explain why: Since 2010, an average of 19 investigators have handled an average of more than 3,000 complaints to Michigan's Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Division every year, the WDIV investigation found.      

For more:
- read the Detroit Free Press article
- here's the WDIV-TV report (video)