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MA Physician Gets 1-Year Probation for Criminal HIPAA Violation

Rita Luthra, a Springfield, MA-based gynecologist, was sentenced Sept. 19 to one-year probation for a criminal HIPAA violation and obstruction of a criminal healthcare investigation.

HIPAA violation

Source: Thinkstock

By Fred Donovan

- Rita Luthra, a Springfield, MA-based gynecologist, was sentenced Sept. 19 to one-year probation for a criminal HIPAA violation and obstruction of a criminal healthcare investigation.

In April, a jury convicted her of allowing a pharmaceutical sales representative to access patient records and lying to federal investigators. In May, US District Judge Mark G. Mastroianni denied a motion by Luthra’s attorney to reverse the conviction.

In the original compliant, the Department of Justice (DoJ) alleged that Luthra allowed a Warner Chilcott sales representative to access her patients’ PHI and then provided false information to HHS agents about her dealings with the drug company.

The HIPAA violation charge carries a possible sentence of up to one year in prison and/or a fine of $50,000 and one year of supervised release and the obstruction charge carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release.

Federal prosecutors were seeking a prison sentence of two years and a fine of $40,000, according to a report on MassLive.com.

Apparently Judge Mastroianni opted for leniency because of Luthra’s work serving women and girls in Springfield’s impoverished North End, the report noted. He even rejected the defense’s argument that Luthra should do community service instead of jail time.

“I don't believe from what I know of Dr. Luthra she needs the court to tell her about that,” the report quoted the judge as saying. “Her loss of license and ability to practice is a substantial deterrent,” he said in his ruling.

Her lawyer, Stephen Spelman, was quoted as saying: “Dr. Rita Luthra dedicates herself to serving others, and spends her professional lifetime treating women and girls from the disadvantaged communities in Western Massachusetts, never caring whether her patients could pay.”

The prosecution of Luthra stemmed from a DoJ investigation into the market practices of drug company Warner Chilcott. The department accused the company of paying kickbacks to physicians to get them to prescribe its drugs, manipulating prior authorizations to induce insurance companies to pay for prescriptions of the osteoporosis drug Atelvia, and making unsubstantiated marketing claims about the osteoporosis drug Actonel.

In 2015, the DoJ reached a $125 million settlement with the company in which it pled guilty to felony healthcare fraud. The company received a $22.94 million criminal fine and a $102.1 million civil fine, of which $91.5 million went to the federal government and $10.6 went to the Massachusetts state government.

Two former district managers, Jeffrey Podolsky and Timothy Garcia, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and HIPAA violations. A third former district manager, Landon Eckles, was criminally charged for alleged HIPAA violations.

The company’s former president, W. Carl Reichel, was acquitted of charges that he conspired to pay kickbacks to physicians.

As part of that probe, the DoJ alleged that Luthra accepted around $23,500 from Warner Chilcott for speaking at “medical education events” that took place in her office and writing a research paper that was never finished. The department alleges that the money was paid to induce Luthra to prescribe more Warner Chilcott drugs.

A Warner Chilcott sales representative also worked with the physician and her assistant in preparing the prior authorization paperwork for insurance companies to cover prescriptions for the company’s brand name drugs. HHS agents interviewed her about whether she shared patients’ confidential medical information with the drug company.

At the time, Luthra denied sharing confidential patient information and told her assistant to tell the HHS agents the same thing. She allegedly told the assistant that there could be hefty fines for both of them for violating HIPAA.

The report quoted a presentencing memo prepared by Spelman in which he said that Luthra was abused by her husband who tried to amputate her fingers with knives on a number of occasions. “After one particularly vicious assault, she left the marriage, fleeing her marital home on a snowy night with literally nothing but the clothes on her back,” he wrote.

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