Spine surgeon facing federal health care fraud charges performed many surgeries at West Chester Hospital
Lisa Bernard-Kuhn reports:
Dr. Atiq Durrani, the Evendale spine surgeon facing federal health care fraud charges, said he stands ready to fight the criminal and civil allegations against him.
Last month, Durrani was arrested by federal agents at his Center for Advanced Spine Technologies on Reading Road. He is charged with one count of health care fraud and one count of making false statements in health care matters. A criminal complaint filed with the U.S. District Court Downtown accuses him of fraudulently billing Medicare millions of dollars for unnecessary surgeries.
Durrani denied the allegations in an interview Friday, arguing that the filing is based on claims by just five patients, none of whom are named in the federal papers. The doctor also says that he never operated on two of those patients listed in the filing.
“We have sat in our room and pumped our brains about what has prompted all of this,” he said. “We were not given any indictment. The grand jury testimony is still being completed.”
Fred Alverson, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said the government has 30 days from the time of the filing on July 22 to issue an indictment.
The doctor said that the cases in question involve “a very rare genetic disorder, that is very complex and none of them had any catastrophic complications.”
That disorder, Durrani said, is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which over time leads to a weak, unstable neck and back. Of his total patient load, less than 5 percent included patients suffering from EDS. And of those, Durrani said he only recommend an interior lumbar fusion surgery in the most severe cases, which he estimated was about 30 percent of EDS patients.
Still, his billings to Medicare for the lumbar surgery were more than any other physician in Ohio, and three times more than the next highest ranking physician’s billings, according to federal papers.
All told, he was involved in cases in which Medicare was billed $11 million for the surgeries from Feb. 1 through Jan. 31, according to the complaint.
Of the those billings, $7.5 million were connected to reimbursements for surgeries Durrani performed at local hospitals, of which 95 percent were conducted at UC Health’s West Chester Hospital.
The federal complaint also claims that many of Durrani’s patients were “left in a worse position” after their surgeries.
Durrani says he billed the most in the state because his center is the one of only five in the U.S. with the expertise to perform the specialty lumbar fusions. Hospitals were paid separately for the procedure, and Durrani said his reimbursement rate was roughly $2,000 per surgery.
That’s not “a lot of money,” Durrani said, considering the risk involved, which could include death or paralysis to the patient if complications occur.
“I guess the third risk is that you can get sued,” Durrani said. “If the point was to do something to make money, I could have taken other patients who had never been touched by a surgeon before and performed surgeries for three times more (money).”
He added that he only performed the surgeries on patients he thought would see improvement, but never guaranteed he could fully eliminate their pain.
Many of those patients, he said, had been treated and seen by other spine doctors, with no success.
“I didn’t go and grab these people from the street. These people came to me because they had an issue,” Durrani said. “If I’m at fault for not helping them, what about these surgeons who operated twice on them before? And the doctor who had been giving them 100 injections and didn’t make them better? Their issues didn’t start with me.”
Meanwhile, Durrani faces more than 150 civil lawsuits filed by lawyer Eric Deters on behalf of former patients of the spine surgeon.
Durrani said he’s the victim of a personal crusade launched against him by Deters.
“If Eric Deters didn’t go on his blog, calling him a butcher of Pakistan, do you really think there would be this many people filing lawsuits? No way,” said lawyer Michael Lyon, who is representing Durrani in the civil cases. “These people filed these lawsuits for one reason only: money. Not because they didn’t like what happened to them.”
Deters said Friday he stands by the statements he’s made publicly about Durrani.
“I am on personal crusade, on behalf of the victims I represent whose lives he has destroyed by these necessary spine surgeries,” Deters said. “He’s so narcissistic, he actually thinks he can convince others that’s he’s a wonderful surgeon.”
Durrani faces up to 25 years in prison on the federal charges against him.
A preliminary federal court hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 19 for Durrani, when he is expected to enter his plea on the criminal charges.