A small pharmacy in a strip mall in Cleveland, Tn., was an important cog in a massive health care fraud in 2015 that bilked the U.S. military health care program out of more than $65 million.
The Choice MD operation was shut down after several months, but in the meantime three medical professionals there wrote thousands of prescriptions for creams after briefly talking to "patients" on the telephone or not talking to them at all.
It was part of the "cream scheme" that was quietly centered around the Chattanooga area.
Five individuals are currently on trial in Federal Court in Chattanooga in the case.
The three Choice MD doctors - Dr.
Carl Lindblad, Dr. Susan Vergot and nurse practitioner Candace Craven - were charged in San Diego, Calif., where Choice MD owners Jimmy and Ashley Collins of Birchwood had moved. The Collins couple is also charged in San Diego, where a large number of Marines and sailors were seen as hot prospects for cream orders. Jimmy and Ashley Collins are awaiting trial on the West Coast.
Drs. Lindblad and Vergot and Ms. Craven quickly pleaded guilty. They are set to be sentenced on Jan. 10 and face up to 10 years in federal prison.
Several witnesses in the Chattanooga trial have told about getting calls from Ms. Craven, who asked a few questions before writing cream prescriptions. Charges submitted to the government for reimbursement for the creams averaged almost $15,000 a bottle.
In court, the Choice MD personnel admitted to conducting sham “telemedicine” evaluations that resulted in the prescription of exorbitantly expensive compounded medications to patients they never saw or examined in person.
According to the guilty pleas, a team of individuals worked to recruit and pay Marines, primarily from the San Diego area, and their dependents – all TRICARE beneficiaries – to obtain compounded medications that would be paid for by TRICARE. This information was sent to Choice MD. The doctors there then conducted phone calls with the TRICARE beneficiaries, and recommended that they be prescribed compounded medications despite never examining the patients in person. These prescriptions were then signed by doctors employed by Choice MD, were not given to the beneficiaries, but sent directly to pharmacies at Bountiful, Utah, controlled by the scheme co-conspirators. Those pharmacies filled the prescriptions and billed TRICARE at exorbitant prices.
Between December 2014 and May 9, 2015 – the day that TRICARE stopped reimbursing for compounded medications – doctors working at Choice MD signed 4,442 total prescriptions. Over this time, their co-conspirators billed TRICARE $65,679,512 for these prescriptions.