An area orthopedic surgeon will pay $1.75 million “to resolve allegations that he accepted kickbacks from SpineFrontier, Inc., a Massachusetts-based medical device manufacturer,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston.
Dr. Jeffrey R. Carlson is the sixth surgeon who has agreed to settle with the government relating to his dealings with SpineFrontier, federal prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said SpineFrontier paid $8 million in kickbacks to surgeons around the country.
Carlson is the president of Orthopedic & Spine Center off City Center Boulevard in Newport News and opened a new outpatient surgery center next door in February of this year.
The OSC’s website states the facility’s physicians have “full staff privileges at Mary Immaculate Hospital
Previously, Carlson taught at orthopedic spine surgery at Harvard University and served as the Chief of Surgery at Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital, according to Carlson’s biography.
“Jeffrey R. Carlson, M.D., runs his own private orthopedic practice and is an independent provider at Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital, among other area health systems,” Bon Secours spokeswoman Emma Swann wrote in an email. “Consistent with Bon Secours’ privacy policies, we cannot discuss associate matters.”
Of the $1.75 million, Carlson must pay the government $1.6 million within 30 days. The rest is due with interest within six months.
In March, federal prosecutors filed a False Claims Act complaint against SpineFrontier and its executives, alleging that SpineFrontier paid kickbacks to spine surgeons itself and through a sham third-party entity, Impartial Medical Experts, LLC, which was owned and controlled by SpineFrontier’s founder and CEO, Kingsley R. Chin.
According to the settlement, SpineFrontier paid Carlson $1.27 million while Carlson used the company’s equipment for his spinal procedures between 2013 and 2018.
As part of the settlement agreement, “the government contends that Dr. Carlson received kickbacks in the form of sham consulting fees that he submitted through Impartial Medical Experts,” prosecutors wrote in the news release. “Under the settlement agreement, Dr. Carlson admits he estimated his purported consulting hours based on the number of times he used a SpineFrontier product in a given month, as opposed to tracking actual time he spent consulting.”
Carlson further also admitted he cannot document the consulting hours he submitted for payment to SpineFrontier and Impartial Medical Experts, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“This settlement continues our commitment to ensuring that doctors choose medical products solely on the basis of what is best for the patient, and not what is best for the surgeon’s pockets. For their part, manufacturers must play by the rules and compete on a level playing field,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “We will investigate any doctor, like Dr. Carlson, who accepts money from a device manufacturer simply for using that company’s products.”
According to the settlement, Carlson also admitted he got – for himself and his staff – thousands of dollars of free meals from SpineFrontier on almost every day that he performed a surgical procedure with a SpineFrontier product.
In addition, Carlson “sought and received consulting payments from SpineFrontier for time he spent during his surgical procedures, for which Medicare and other federal health care programs were already paying him,” according to the news release.
“By accepting kickbacks in the form of sham consulting fees, along with thousands of dollars in free meals, Dr. Jeffrey Carlson not only put his own financial well-being ahead of his patients, but he also cheated taxpayers who were footing the bill for his surgical procedures,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division.
“Sham consulting arrangements seek to undermine the integrity of the medical decision-making process,” added Phillip M. Coyne, Special Agent in Charge for the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Carlson recently appeared on a local TV show and was named one of Coastal Virginia Magazine’s “Top Docs” in 2018.
Brandon Santos, one of Carlson’s attorneys, emailed this statement on behalf of his client:
“I am proud of my work as a leading innovator in orthopedic spine surgery for the past 21 years. My expert consulting has led to the development and improvement of the multiple products and techniques that I and the entire spine surgery community use with our patients. This has resulted in improved care, faster recovery time and overall better patient outcomes in spine surgery. I acknowledge in hindsight that I could have focused more time on ensuring thorough record keeping and better practice management. Patient safety and positive outcomes have always been the top priorities and driving factors of my practice. I am relieved to settle this matter, put it in the past and pledge to maintain full compliance with U.S Department of Health and Human Services guidelines going forward.”