Florida Doctor Pleads Guilty to Fraud — Years After Complaints About His Prescribing
By Charles Ornstein
June 23, 2016
Seven years after a U.S. senator cited him as a national example of aberrant practices, the onetime top prescriber of antipsychotic drugs in Florida’s Medicaid program is in federal custody awaiting sentencing on fraud charges.
The second-highest prescriber is serving a four-year term in federal prison after pleading guilty to fraud charges in 2012, but he only relinquished his license to practice medicine in Florida last fall.
Taken together, the cases illustrate how long it can take regulators and law enforcement to take action against problem doctors — and how those physicians can continue prescribing drugs paid for by taxpayers in the meantime. In 2011, ProPublica wrote about the suspicious prescribing patterns of the two Miami-area psychiatrists, Fernando Mendez-Villamil and Huberto Merayo.
Questions about the doctors’ prescribing were first brought to light by Ken Kramer, a private investigator in Clearwater, Florida, who runs a website that compiles public records on psychiatrists. He complained to Florida’s Medicaid fraud unit in 2007 that Mendez-Villamil appeared to be prescribing a disproportionate amount of the antipsychotic Abilify to children.
“Talk about slow justice,” he said in an email to ProPublica, when sharing news that Mendez-Villamil pleaded guilty in May to an array of federal charges.
Prompted, in part, by the information Kramer gathered, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, pressed Medicaid directors in all 50 states to explain how they were monitoring top prescribers of antipsychotics, narcotics and other risky drugs. He also demanded a list from each state of the top 10 prescribers of eight drugs and whether any action had been taken against them…
Merayo, 64, ranked second for prescribing mental-health drugs in Florida Medicaid from July 2007 to March 2009. In 2009 alone, he prescribed nearly $2 million worth of antipsychotics to Medicaid patients.
In 2011, Florida summarily ended his Medicaid contract, also “without cause,” after a state review found he hadn’t documented why patients were prescribed the antipsychotic pills and had given them to patients with heart ailments or diabetes despite label warnings.
At the time, his lawyer said the doctor had not been advised of any allegations of billing irregularities.
In 2012, federal prosecutors charged Merayo with health care fraud for signing medical diagnosis and treatment forms “knowing that the patients he was supposedly treating and supervising the treatment of did not qualify for the services he purported to provide.” He agreed to plead guilty the same day. He was sentenced to four years in prison in 2013 and ordered to pay $6.7 million in restitution…