The owner of a Florida laboratory has pleaded guilty to a $7 million Medicare fraud scheme in which he paid kickbacks to brokers for telemedicine firms and doctors to prescribe expensive but unnecessary genetic testing along with low-cost COVID-19 tests for thousands of patients.
Christopher Licata, 45, of Delray Beach, Florida, admitted that his lab, Boca Toxicology LLC, pushed expensive and medically-unnecessary respiratory and genetic testing for cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, obesity, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia on patients seeking to simply find out if they had contracted coronavirus.
Federal prosecutors say Licata began the scheme in 2018 in a different form, but kicked it into high gear when the coronavirus pandemic struck and continued submitting fraudulent claims into 2021.
“‘Once the COVID-19 pandemic began, Licata exploited patients’ fear of COVID-19 by bundling COVID-19 tests with more expensive, medically unnecessary testing.’”
“Once the COVID-19 pandemic began, Licata exploited patients’ fear of COVID-19 by bundling COVID-19 tests with more expensive, medically unnecessary testing,” prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors say the additional testing yielded far higher payouts from Medicare than the low-priced COVID-19 tests. In all, they say Boca Toxicology submitted $6.9 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare, receiving nearly $3 million in payments.
A message left with Licata’s attorney wasn’t immediately returned.
According to court documents, Licata paid 10% of what he received to a network of brokers who worked with doctors’ offices to refer Medicare patients and the unnecessary testing to his lab. In many cases, the referrals came from telemedicine companies where doctors allegedly signed orders for tests for patients they had never seen, prosecutors said.
Licata pleaded guilty in federal court in Florida to one count of conspiring to commit health-care fraud. He faces up to 10 years in prison when he is scheduled on March 24.