Doc gets 4 years in prison for multi-million dollar hospice scheme

A California physician who falsely certified more than 70 patients as terminally ill in order to refer them for hospice care was sentenced to four years in federal prison last week. He will also pay $1.3 million in restitution.

Boyao Huang, 43, is one of two physicians convicted as part of a $8.8 million fraud scheme operated by Covina Hospice Care of Covina, CA. Huang and the second doctor, Sri Wijegoonaratna, 61, conducted “assessments” for patients and certified them as terminally ill, regardless of the assessment's outcome.

At least 79 Medicare and Medi-Cal beneficiaries were deemed terminally ill and referred to CHC, “even though the vast majority of them were not dying,” the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California said in a press release.

“This scheme preyed upon dozens of patients and their families who were led to believe that their worst nightmare had come true — that they had life-ending illnesses,” U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said in the statement.  

Huang's charges carried a possible sentence of 40 years in prison when he was convicted in May. Wijegoonaratna is set to be sentenced in February 2017; he faces a maximum sentence of 70 years in prison.

When the scheme was discovered in June 2013, federal and state health programs had paid nearly $7.4 million of the $8.8 million in fraudulent claims filed by the hospice. Eight others have also been convicted in the case, including the hospice's owner.

Huang's sentencing comes amid several high-profile court cases highlighting the issue of physicians' certification of hospice-eligible patients.