By Robert Gavin
An anesthesiologist from Columbia County is charged with taking kickbacks in a Medicare fraud scheme in which she prescribed knee braces and topical cream for patients she never met or examined — including a man who could not walk.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn say Dr. Anna Steiner, 63, of Valatie and others ordered the medical equipment and prescriptions in connection with supposed telemedicine services, which allow patients in remote areas to receive health care virtually.
But Steiner — also known as “Hanna Wasielewska” — and providers signed prescriptions and order forms that were not necessary, prosecutors said.
The prescriptions were induced by kickbacks and provided for patients whom neither Steiner nor the others had examined.
Prosecutors allege Steiner and others caused more than $7 million in claims to Medicare, the taxpayer-funded health care for older Americans, on behalf of more than 3,000 beneficiaries.
Medicare paid out over $3 million on the claims, they said.
On Tuesday, Steiner pleaded not guilty before U.S. District Judge Leo Glasser after being arraigned on a one-count indictment charging her with conspiracy to commit health care fraud. The defendant, who was initially arrested in April, is free on $300,000 bond.
“Dr. Steiner is innocent and she looks forward to her day in court,” James Bell, the defendant’s Dallas-based attorney, told the Times Union in an email.
Steiner was listed as the provider on two claims to Medicare for patients in Staten Island. In one of the cases, an $827 claim was submitted on Nov. 28, 2016, to pay for a man’s knee brace and suspension sleeve. In February, the man told investigators he had never heard of Steiner or been treated over the phone.
“(The man) reported that he had no need for a knee brace as he cannot walk,” an FBI agent stated in a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.
Another claim for $393 was submitted to Medicare on behalf of a Staten Island patient who supposedly needed topical cream for psoriasis. In February 2019, the man told investigators he had neither met nor been treated by Steiner — and noted that he had recently been receiving calls from telemarketers who knew his birthday and Social Security number.
The complaint listed multiple other examples of alleged fraud in which claims worth thousands of dollars apiece were submitted on behalf of patients who said they never needed the equipment or other items and did not recognize the name of Steiner, who was identified as the referring provider.
The FBI and inspector general’s office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services investigated the case. The complaint said Steiner engaged in the alleged scheme beginning in January 2015 through at least April 2018.
Court filings state that in September 2015, Steiner told an HHS investigator that she contracted with an agency to provide telemedicine services, though she could not remember its name. She told the investigator the agency contracted with other companies that gave her patient information via email and connected her with patients on the phone, the complaint said.
That month, Steiner told the investigator the agency paid her $30 for each phone consultation she completed. But Steiner later sent an email in which she said the payments were contingent on her generating a prescription. She said she was paid $30 “for one patient to talk and give script,” the complaint said. The interactions lasted an average claimed.
Also in September 2015, Steiner forwarded an email in which she said she worked for a company that paid medical providers to give telemedicine to patients. In the email, she said she would get “$30 per patient who needs an order from pharmacy,” the complaint said.
In that email, Steiner said she would no longer order knee braces for patients because it was “not worth it for $30.” But Medicare claims showed she was still listed as the referring provider for orthotic brace claims as recently as December 2017, stated the complaint.
In December 2016, an HHS investigator — who did not identify himself as an agent — asked Steiner if she lived in New York or California because he had conflicting information. Steiner, without being prompted, asked the investigator if it was legal to be paid $30 for writing a prescription for braces — and noted she had also been paid $30 for prescribing pain cream.