A South Florida man pled guilty for his part in a multi-million dollar fraud conspiracy that provided prescription drugs designed to maximize his pharmacy’s profit but had little medical value, the Justice Department says.
58-year-old Matthew Smith of Palm Beach, Florida, pled guilty to one count of health care fraud on Jan. 26, before a federal judge in Miami, Florida. Smith was a part of conspiracy that defrauded Tricare and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Civilian Health and Medical Program of $88 million, prosecutors say. Smith is scheduled to be sentenced April 5, and he faces up to 10 years in prison.
Smith pled guilty “for his abhorrent conduct in defrauding multiple federal healthcare programs meant to benefit deserving veterans and their families,” Special Agent in Charge David Spilker of the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General’s Southeast Field Office said in a release.
Smith acknowledged that while working as the executive vice president of a Broward, Florida pharmacy, he fraudulently billed both Tricare and CHAMP VA $88 million for “medically unnecessary” drugs known as compounded medications.
Compounded medication combines two or more drugs to meet specific patient needs, according to the Food and Drug Administration. It can be as simple as turning a prescription from a pill to a liquid form or removing a particular dye or ingredient to which a patient is allergic. However, once a medication is compounded, it loses FDA approval.
As part of the scheme, Smith and his co-conspirators then paid approximately $40 million in “kickbacks” to patients, patient recruiters, and doctors in exchange for them to purchase scar creams, pain creams, and vitamins, prosecutors say. He also ensured that the compounded drugs sold from his pharmacy were formulated to maximize profit, while the drugs had no legitimate therapeutic value.
Healthcare fraud writ large is not unique to government health care programs. According to the National Heal Care Anti-Fraud Association, as much as 10% of total health care expenditures, some $300 billion annually, are a result of fraud.
The military has been hit hard, according to investigators.
“Compounding pharmacy fraud bilked the Defense Health Agency of over a billion dollars and exploited not only the military but all citizens,” said DCIS Special Agent in Charge Bruce.
A July annual joint report from the Department of Health and Human Services and DOJ identified at least $780 million in fraud emanating from compound medications, with at least $750 million of the fraud directed at Tricare.
According to the National Institute of Health, tracking compound medication fraud is complex due to a lack of reporting requirements. Nevertheless, NIH reports that compounding medications are “an increasingly lucrative industry,” with global market revenue for legitimate sales ranging from $2 billion to $9 billion annually.
“Fraudsters steal exorbitant amounts of money from our government health programs through prescription medication fraud schemes,” said U.S. Attorney Gonzalez. “Those who use kickback payments and fraudulent billing activities to defraud vital public programs will be held accountable.”
James R. Webb is a rapid response reporter for Military Times. He served as a US Marine infantryman in Iraq. Additionally, he has worked as a Legislative Assistant in the US Senate and as an embedded photographer in Afghanistan.