A federal grand jury in St. Louis has indicted an Overland Park anesthesiologist on charges he conspired to defraud Medicare out of $26 million.
The 25-count indictment of Dr. Scott Taggart Roethle alleges that telemedicine and marketing companies paid him more than $674,000 in kickbacks between 2017 and 2020 to sign prescriptions and orders for patients he had never met.
Between October 2017 and April 2019, the indictment says he ordered knee braces for 3,584 patients for which Medicare was billed $6.5 million.
He also allegedly signed orders for genetic tests after receiving an email from a company called Encore Telemedicine/Locum Tenens USA asking if he was interested in signing about 180 genetic test orders.
The labs that received those tests billed $53 million to Medicare, which ended up paying more than $18 million for 2,853 patients for whom Roethle signed orders.
The indictment also charges that Roethle ordered medically unnecessary topical creams for 206 patients, causing Medicare to pay out more than $365,000.
Roethle did not respond to a message KCUR left on his cellphone. It is not known if he is represented by an attorney.
Alleged bogus medical supply conspiracy
The indictment says two durable medical equipment companies in Cape Girardeau, Mo. — MC Medical Supply and Integrity Medical Supply — paid kickbacks to Roethle in exchange for orders he sent to them.
Court records show the owner of MC Medical Supply, Brandy McKay, pleaded guilty in St. Louis last October to defrauding Medicare and Medicaid. She is awaiting sentencing.
The owners of Integrity Medical Supply, Jackson Siples III and Jamie McCoy, were indicted in connection with the same scheme. McCoy pleaded guilty last November to defrauding Medicare and Medicaid and is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 14. Siples has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
Roethle’s indictment says he worked as a telemedicine doctor for at least 10 medical supply companies, including MC Medical Supply and Integrity Medical Supply. That work was in addition to his work as an anesthesiologist in Kansas and Missouri, according to the indictment.
“It was part of the conspiracy that marketing companies ran television and online ads offering orthotic braces and other services, at no cost, to patients,” the indictment alleges. “When a patient responded to the ad, an employee of a call center collected pertinent information from the patient, including the patient’s name and address, the name of the patient’s primary care physician, insurance information, Medicare number, and areas of pain. In some instances, the marketers made ‘cold calls’ to patients.”
The companies then allegedly sent the patient information to Roethle and other telemedicine doctors, who certified that the patients needed the products in question, even though they had no doctor-patient relationship with them and didn’t determine the items or services were medically necessary.
In many instances, patients complained to Roethle that they didn’t need or want the items he had ordered for them, according to the indictment.
Michael Bradley, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in St. Louis, which is prosecuting the case, told KCUR that Roethle was indicted in St. Louis because many of the affected patients live there.
Roethle obtained licenses to practice in 22 states and, according to the indictment, signed orders for thousands of patients living in those states.
Records show he has been sanctioned in at least 10 states for prescribing medications via telemedicine to patients with whom he did not have a physician-patient relationship.
In December 2018, the Idaho State Board of Medicine cited him for prescribing testosterone to three patients via telemedicine and publicly reprimanded him.
In December 2019, the Iowa Board of Medicine cited him for prescribing medications to a patient via telemedicine. Roethle agreed to pay a $5,000 civil penalty.
Reciprocal disciplinary actions over the Idaho and Iowa cases have been issued against Roethle by medical boards in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Alabama, Minnesota, Mississippi, Maine and Texas, records show.
Various health care-related websites state that Roethle received his medical degree from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 2005. (Doximity, an online networking service for health care providers, says he received his medical degree from the University of Texas Medical School and did his internship and residency at the University of Texas Health Science Center.)
An Overland Park company called In2Great Functional Medicine lists Roethle as its medical director. A bio on its website describes Roethle as a board-certified anesthesiologist “with a passion for helping people get and stay healthy.”
A person who answered the phone at In2Great Functional Medicine said he was not in the office.
Roethle name around KC metro
Several health care websites list Roethle as being affiliated with Overland Park Regional Medical Center, Menorah Medical Center and Children’s Mercy Hospital. But spokespersons for those hospitals said he was not affiliated with them.
The indictment says Roethle was licensed in Missouri and Kansas but doesn’t say where he worked. His Kansas Board of Healing Arts profile lists his address as 13725 Metcalf Ave. in Overland Park, which turns out to be a UPS store where he maintains a mailbox.
He lists the same phone number for Bothwell Regional Health Center in Sedalia, Mo., where he was employed until June of this year.
Dana Kelchner, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said Roethle left after saying he had found another job. She said the hospital had not experienced any problems with Roethle and the hospital was not mentioned in the criminal charges against Roethle.
The indictment underscores how readily telemedicine, the practice of using telecommunication technology to provide long-distance health care, can be abused. The technology has proven particularly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic because it reduces disease exposure for providers and patients, preserves scare supplies of personal protective equipment and reduces patient demand on facilities.
Two weeks ago, a federal grand jury charged the Florida owner of multiple telemedicine companies with an illegal kickback scheme involving the submission of $784 million in allegedly fraudulent claims to Medicare.
About a year ago, 345 defendants were charged in a major telehealth takedown that prosecutors said resulted in $6 billion in losses to federal health care programs, including $4.5 billion related to telemedicine.
And in April 2019, federal prosecutors charged 24 individuals and telehealth companies for allegedly accepting kickbacks from medical equipment companies and defrauding Medicare of $1.2 billion by persuading patients in telemedicine visits to accept items that were not medically necessary.
KCUR 89.3 is Kansas City’s NPR affiliate public radio station. You can read and listen to more of their reporting at kcur.org.