- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - A former Huntsville doctor who authorities once considered the nation’s most prolific Medicare prescriber of opioid painkillers has pleaded guilty to a drug charge and health care fraud, federal law enforcement officials said.

Shelinder Aggarwal, 48, pleaded guilty to two offenses, U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and FBI Special Agent in Charge Roger Stanton said in a news release Thursday: one count each of distributing a controlled substance outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose and conspiring to execute a health care fraud scheme between January 2011 and March 2013.

The fraud charge stemmed from $9.5 million in unneeded urine tests, officials said.

The deal stipulates a 15-year prison sentence but the judge reserved his decision on whether to accept that punishment until a sentencing hearing.

As part of the plea, Aggarwal will forfeit his former clinic along with $6.7 million. He earlier repaid $2.8 million to Medicare and $45,843 to Blue Cross following audits. In 2013, he surrendered his Alabama medical license and his state and federal certificates to prescribe controlled substances.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Aggarwal was considered the nation’s highest Medicare prescriber of opioid painkillers at the height of his practice.

Aggarwal, a pain management doctor, operated Chronic Pain Care Services in Huntsville. His plea agreement states that in 2012, about 80 to 145 patients a day visited the clinic, with him seeing the majority of them and writing all prescriptions.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Aggarwal did not obtain prior medical records for his patients, did not treat patients with anything other than controlled substances, often asked patients what medications they wanted and filled their requests, prescribed controlled substances to patients who he knew were using illegal drugs and did not take appropriate measures to ensure that patients did not divert or abuse controlled substances.

According to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program for Alabama, which tracks the dispensing of controlled substances, Alabama pharmacies filled about 110,013 of Aggarwal’s prescriptions for controlled substances in 2012. That would equal about 423 prescriptions per day if he worked five days a week, and resulted in about 12.3 million pills.

The PDMP rated Aggarwal as the highest prescriber of controlled substances filled in Alabama in 2012, with the next highest prescriber writing a third as many prescriptions.

Medicare data shows Aggarwal was the highest prescriber in the United States of Schedule II controlled substances, like oxycodone and morphine, under Medicare in 2012.

In the health care fraud scheme, Aggarwal pleaded guilty to requiring patients to undergo unreasonable and unnecessary urine drug tests that he did not need or use in their treatment.

Between January 2011 and March 2013, urine drug tests accounted for about 80 percent of paid claims Aggarwal submitted to Medicare and Blue Cross, for a total reimbursement of $9.5 million. According to his plea agreement, “Aggarwal’s primary motivation for testing patients’ urine specimens, and submitting those claims for payment, was financial gain.”

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