Patients pumped with chemo poison for profit

Fraud of the Month: November 2014

By James Quiggle

imageCancer was good to Dr. Farid Fata. He pumped up patients with toxic levels of chemotherapy whether they needed it or not. They suffered mightily as the drugs launched mass attacks on their cells and suppressed their immune systems, often for months.

The patients were his slot machines, and Fata hit the jackpot with each false diagnosis. The Detroit-area cancer specialist billed private insurers and Medicare $225 million, with a princely $91 million flying into his bank account.

Fata often gave toxic levels of medications that patients didn’t need. Many of Fata’s patients didn’t have cancer — they were perfectly healthy. One cancer-free patient received 155 treatments over two years. Often Fata told healthy patients they’d need chemo for the rest of their lives.

Patty Hester was terminal, Fata told her. Hester’s only hope was an invasive bone-marrow transplant, Fata said. Hester was getting ready for the surgery when the feds raided Fata’s office, stopping the procedure. She says she sought another cancer doctor’s opinion. The oncologist said she was misdiagnosed and didn’t need the transplant.

“I was told every single month that I was terminal. I rushed to take trips and try to make memories for my grandkids, gave things away, watched my husband go into depression ... and everything was a lie,” she told reporters.

Chemo for phantom cancer

Robert Sobieray had a bone disorder and needed drug infusions that eventually led to the degradation of all his teeth, he said that Fata warned. Sobieray first started seeing Fata in 2010, and never had the disease Fata diagnosed him with.

He also doused dying patients with chemo. Fata ordered high doses of chemo for up to 70 percent of patients who were near death and beyond hope. They lived out their final days with painful cancer drugs coursing through their bodies.
“I was told every single month that I was terminal. I rushed to take trips and try to make memories for my grandkids, gave things away, watched my husband go into depression ... and everything was a lie,” Patty Hester told reporters.

Some patients were in remission and didn’t need to be blasted with radiation. He also charged insurers for phantom chemo.

Many cancerous patients received toxic overdoses to score Fata more insurance billings. He ordered 56 doses of one chemo drug for a patient — more than four times the recommended dosage.

Another patient fell and seriously hurt his head at one of Fata’s offices. Yet Fata insisted the patient undergo a full regimen of chemo before being sent to the hospital. He later died from the head injury.

A patient’s lung cancer had healed yet Fata placed her on lengthy “maintenance” chemo.

One form of cancer can be stopped by removing the spleen but Fata prescribed an antibody for years without telling patients a quicker, cleaner cure was available.

Saw patients only briefly

Fata’s offices were factory lines. Up to 70 patients a day were common. Fata only saw patients for 2-3 minutes. He had unlicensed foreign doctors at his practices do most of the interview work, yet charged insurers for the highest billing codes for his own services.

Unlicensed medical assistants injected patients with drugs. Medical assistants performed bone-marrow biopsies in unsterile conditions with ungloved hands.

An oncologist who worked for Fata told investigators he was so disturbed that he advised a patient never to return after Fata ordered chemo for cancer that was inactive.

Fata ordered another drug for patients. A suspicious employee yanked 40 patient files and found that 38 didn’t need the treatments. He diagnosed 25 times more patients that one employee knew was the norm for much larger practices.

Patient medical records were falsified to reflect the presence of cancer to justify unneeded chemo.

Lengthy sentence lies ahead

Fata abruptly pleaded guilty to health fraud in later September 2014 and other charges and could receive up to 175 years in federal prison in January 2015. He also could face more charges next year. Many wrenching tales of corruption and patient abuse will have to wait until potentially hundreds of malpractice lawsuits go to trial.

“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,” federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade told the Detroit Free Press.

“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.”

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