A 53-year-old Californian doctor was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison Monday for performing scores of unnecessary "sweaty palm surgeries" and defrauding health care companies out of more than $9 million.
Dr. William Wilson Hampton had no comment as he appeared in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom before U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins, who called his actions a "crime of greed."
AdvertisementCollins ordered Hampton to surrender to prison authorities by Sept. 8.
It's considered the largest medical insurance fraud case in the country. A 70-page indictment alleged that nearly 3,000 healthy people were recruited from across the United States to receive unnecessary medical procedures, including operations for sweaty palms.
Working at Bel Air Surgical Institute and several other medical clinics in Los Angeles and Orange counties, Hampton was paid thousands of dollars for 15-minute operations with no follow-up appointments.
Patients were paid up to $300 for colonoscopies and up to $1,200 for sweaty palm surgeries, prosecutors said.
Sweaty palm surgeries are typically performed to combat excessive perspiration on the hands and require incisions in the armpits, which carry the risk of puncturing one or both lungs, prosecutors said.
Hampton billed more than $9 million from insurance companies for performing more than 400 such sweaty palm surgeries, prosecutors alleged.
Hampton, who usually made around $200,000 per year for his legitimate surgeries, extensively participated in the scheme for a number of years, prosecutors said. The unnecessary surgeries eventually comprised about 70 percent of Hampton's medical practice.
The patients were recruited by people who worked for marketers who were then paid by the surgery centers. In return, the patients received money or other benefits.
The patients, who were described as young, easily-led people in need of money and who later regretted what they had done, frequently underwent the surgeries with no consultation from Hampton.
The surgeon performed one pre-op consultation while the paid patient was being wheeled into a surgery room.
Hampton's victims included 66 different health insurance companies.
But such scams are not isolated cases. Other examples of commonly performed unnecessary surgery include arthroscopic knee scoping, total arm blocks with ultrasound guidance (hand surgery anesthesia), spinal fusion surgery, self-referred cardiac CT-scans, and many more.
The Department of Justice just settled a long investigation into improper kickbacks to orthopedic surgeons. Those involved avoided criminal prosecution by agreeing to numerous terms, the Healthcare Channel said.