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Two California doctors convicted in $8.8 million hospice fraud face decades in prison for falsely diagnosing patients as terminally ill

Doctors falsely certified Medicare patients were dying and qualified for hospice care, when few were actually terminally ill, authorities say.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

A federal jury has convicted two California doctors of multiple counts of healthcare fraud after participating in a hospice care scheme that robbed Medicare and Medi-Cal of almost $7.5 million dollars, the Department of Justice announced earlier this month.

Sri Wijegoonaratna, 61, of Anaheim and known as Dr. J., was found guilty of seven counts of health care fraud. Boyao Huang, 43, of Pasadena, was convicted of four counts of health care fraud.

[Also: Running list of notable 2016 healthcare frauds]

Authorities said both participated in the scheme, which revolved around the Covina-based California Hospice Care, or CHC, and operated from March of 2009 and June 2013. The scheme also involved four other defendants, including 70 year-old Priscilla Villabroza who had already been convicted and served time for a separate healthcare fraud scheme. Villabroza and her daughter, who owned CHC, paid patient recruiters to bring in Medicare and Medi-Cal beneficiaries. CHC nurses would then perform evaluations of the patients. Regardless of whether they were terminally ill or not, Wijegoonaratna and Huang certified that the patients were dying. The vast majority were not, the DOJ said. They also said evidence showed the two doctors raked in tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks after recruiting patients themselves.

The scheme caused roughly $8.8 million in fraudulent claim submissions to Medicare and Medi-Cal for hospice services, $7.4 million of which were paid.

[Also: Dallas doctor convicted in landmark $375 million fraud case, largest ever in home health]

Wijegoonaratna and Huang face 10 years in federal prison per count of healthcare fraud. Both are scheduled to be sentenced August 15.

"A number of patients admitted to California Hospice Care testified at trial, showing that they did not require end-of-life care. In fact, only a small percentage of patients later died – notwithstanding the two doctors declaring that they needed hospice care. This scheme is one of many that has victimized public health care programs and, in the end, the taxpayers who fund these important programs," said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker.

The investigation into California Hospice was conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General(OIG); the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the California Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud & Elder Abuse; and IRS Criminal Investigation.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn