Doctors Behaving Badly: For ‘infant whisperer,’ insurance fraud was like stealing candy from babies
The readers of the Lancaster (Penn.) New Era had ample reason to be doubtful of the new doctor who had come to town being touted as "the infant whisperer."
The New Era wrote a classic, glowing profile, quoting patients who said Dr. Saroj K. Parida, chief of neonatology at Lancaster Regional Medical Center, had saved their children's lives. And perhaps he had.
But he also provided some anecdotes that should have raised eyebrows. At age 15, he persuaded a court in India to lower the age limit and allow him to attend medical school. He became a doctor at 21, worked "at university hospitals in Europe" and "played tennis competitively in London."
Doubtful yet? Wait until you hear how Parida landed the Lancaster job.
Parida had offers from five different hospitals when he got an unexpected phone call from a recruiter asking him to interview at Regional. It turns out Mrs. Parida had seen Regional's ad on the Internet and accidentally double-clicked on it, automatically forwarding her husband's resume to a recruiter. Parida took a look at Regional. And in no time, the family moved to Lititz.
Ah, yes. The highly sought after doctor with a killer backhand who, as luck would have it, wound up at the local hospital where he began to work miracles. We all know how those nasty Internet ads will suck your resume out of the nested files your computer if you accidentally double click on them.
Three weeks after that story ran, the hospital announced it was closing the neonatology unit. Parida sued the hospital's physician group for breach of contract and fraud, asking for more than $740,000.
Did the other doctors decide they didn't buy the Parida's story anymore?
Perhaps they discovered that Parida was engaged in something much worse than bragging to reporters.
Starting in 2003, when the New Era ran its profile, Parida had been submitting fraudulent bills to insurance companies, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett. His office filed charges against Parida in April 2009, alleging that 18 insurance companies were falsely billed and at least 1,200 patients were hit with fees for services they never received. The attorney general's press release said:
Dr. Parida submitted millions of dollars of claims using a procedure code that was completely different from the procedure he was supposed to report. The charges state that Dr. Parida repeatedly billed for a procedure that was reimbursed at a significantly higher rate than the procedure he had actually rendered to his patients. Dr. Parida claimed that his "billers" made the mistake, despite allegedly having nobody but himself handle the billing.
According to his billing records, Dr. Parida potentially flooded the health insurance industry with more than $22.5 million of fraudulent medical billing.
Parida cut a plea deal with prosecutors in February. He could be forced to pay $7.1 million in restitution. And if he serves even part of the maximum sentence of eight years in federal prison, he will have plenty of time to invent some new tall tales, featuring the infant whisperer as the wronged hero.
Final question: The decision to fold Regional's neonatology unit had to be in discussions before the profile of Parida ran. Was he positioning himself for the next gig? And what did Parida's former colleagues in Pittsburgh have to say about him? Self-proclaimed big shots like Parida tend to leave a lot of bitterness in their wake. It's always good to find out where they last worked and interview people there about why they left. It may make for a profile that glows less but reveals more.