Doctors convicted in $8.8 million Medicare hospice fraud

Two California doctors were convicted Thursday of lying about patients' terminally ill status in order to refer them to a hospice facility and submit roughly $8.8 million in fraudulent Medicare and Medi-Cal claims.

Sri Wijegoonaratna, 61, and Boyao Huang, M.D. 43, are the sixth defendants named in the case; four other defendants have pleaded guilty to healthcare fraud and are awaiting sentencing, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California. The scheme was ran from March 2009 to June 2013.

The two physicians were convicted on charges that they falsely stated that patients were terminally ill, even if they did not require end-of-life care. The patients were then referred to California Hospice Care in Covina, CA.

“CHC nurses performed ‘assessments' to determine whether the beneficiaries were terminally ill and, regardless of the outcome, Wijegoonaratna and Huang certified that the beneficiaries were terminally ill — even though the vast majority of them were not dying,” the attorney's office said in a press release.

CHC submitted nearly $8.8 million in false claims to Medicare and Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program, and received close to $7.4 million in payments. In exchange for their referrals to CHC, Wijegoonaratna and Huang received tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks.

Wijegoonaratna was found guilty of seven counts of healthcare fraud, and faces a maximum of 70 years in federal prison. His medical license was revoked earlier this year. Huang was found guilty of four counts of healthcare fraud, and could serve up to 40 years in federal prison.