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AIDS doctor pleads guilty to healthcare fraud

Dr. George Steven Kooshian admits to watering down medications and billing insurance companies for drugs he did not administer. He practiced in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

February 27, 2009|Jia-Rui Chong

A doctor who treated AIDS patients admitted to watering down medications and pleaded guilty to fraud charges, the U.S. attorney's office announced Thursday.

Dr. George Steven Kooshian, who practiced in Orange and Los Angeles counties, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Santa Ana federal court to a total of four counts of billing fraud and making false healthcare statements. The charges stem from Kooshian's treatment of two patients in 2000. In one case, Kooshian substituted a medication with saline and vitamins; in the other, the patient's medical insurance received bills with fraudulent statements, authorities said.

In court, Kooshian acknowledged sending bills to Medicare and private insurance companies for full doses of medication and medication patients were no longer receiving. The doctor also billed for drugs that should have been administered by office personnel but were instead taken home by patients.

The scheme lasted from roughly 1995 to 2001 and resulted in fraudulent bills of at least $350,000.

Kooshian's case, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. Lawrence E. Kole, demonstrated the U.S. attorney's office's "strong commitment" to combating health-insurance fraud and to protecting the public's health and finances.

Kooshian, 58, of La Quinta operated Valley View Internal Medicine Group at two locations in Garden Grove as well as Ocean View Internal Medicine Group in Laguna Beach and Long Beach.

Problems came to light in 2001 when a former medical technician, Virgil Opinion, described diluted dosages in an article in OC Weekly. The statements triggered an investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The U.S. attorney's office charged Kooshian in 2005 with 29 counts of healthcare fraud, conspiracy and making false statements to insurance companies.

The medications involved are used to treat conditions related to AIDS, HIV infection and hepatitis. They included Epogen, which is used to treat anemia; interferon, which is used to treat Kaposi's sarcoma; and intravenous immune globulin, which is used to treat numbness of extremities. In the case of one patient, Kooshian told the man he was receiving intravenous immune globulin when the man was only receiving saline and vitamins.

Opinion previously pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme. In exchange for pleading guilty to four of the counts, the U.S. attorney's office dropped the other counts against Kooshian.

Kole said that the maximum sentence for the charges for Kooshian's offenses would be about 50 years in prison, but that he expected the judge to reduce the sentence because of Kooshian's admission.

William Kopeny, one of Kooshian's lawyers, said it was important to note that in the plea, both sides agreed that "a failure to provide a full dose of these medications would not necessarily shorten the life or cause the death of a patient."

"I believe no harm was done to any patient," Kopeny said.

Kopeny said Kooshian recently retired from medicine due to a battle with cancer. He said he hoped the court would consider the good Kooshian had done by treating patients who could not afford to pay.

"As his lawyer, one of my goals is to minimize the sentence for a dying man that we see as someone who made an enormously valuable contribution to the community," he said. Kooshian is scheduled to be sentenced May 11.

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jia-rui.chong@latimes.com

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