A New York-area physical therapist pleaded guilty to federal charges of defrauding the Medicare program out of more than $7 million, highlighting the need for greater transparency in physician billing, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Aleksandr Kharkover billed Medicare for nearly $12 million between January 2005 and last July. Medicare paid him $7.3 million during that period, including $2.5 million in 2008 alone. He was arrested and charged in February.
Kharkover's fraudulent billings were initially disclosed via a data mining project undertaken by the Wall Street Journal and the Center for Public Integrity. Kharkover's billings were far higher than the average for the region. In at least one instance, the newspaper verified that Kharkover had billed Medicare for a service he performed personally while he was actually on a vacation cruise. However, the Justice Department said Kharkover was under investigation before his billings were made public last December.
Although court rulings dating back to the 1970s keep the billings of specific physicians confidential, the Wall Street Journal has sued to open up the records, which could put far more providers--including hospitals--under increased public scrutiny.