Doctor and wife charged with taking kickbacks for ordering genetic tests and billing Medicare

A Pennsylvania physician and his wife were charged for allegedly receiving kickbacks for ordering genetic tests and billing Medicare.

Yitzchok “Barry” Kurtzer, MD, and his wife, Robin Kurtzer, were indicted on 11 counts ranging from healthcare fraud to kickback conspiracy, according to a July 23 announcement from the Department of Justice. Two of Dr. Yitzchok’s employees have previously pleaded guilty to the scheme. 

According to the indictment, the couple collected genetic samples from Medicare patients and sent them to clinical laboratories in exchange for kickbacks of up to $5,000. The employees collected DNA swabs for these tests, for which they received payment. 

Two of Yitzchok Kurtzer’s employees, Amber Harris and Shanelyn Kennedy, have each previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the kickback scheme, and Lee Besen and Kimberly Schmidt have also each previously pleaded guilty for a related cash-for-genetic tests scheme. Sentencings for each of those defendants is pending.  

According to a Government press release:

Yitzchok Kurtzer was a primary care physician with offices in the Scranton, Pennsylvania, area. Robin Kurtzer helped manage those offices. Beginning in 2018, Yitzchok Kurtzer and Robin Kurtzer solicited and received monthly cash kickbacks and bribes in exchange for collecting samples from Medicare patients and sending them for genetic tests to clinical laboratories in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The cash kickbacks ranged up to $5,000, and the Kurtzers typically accepted the cash in one of Yitzchok Kurtzer’s offices, at times behind locked doors. At one point, the Kurtzers complained that they were not getting paid enough and negotiated for higher kickbacks and bribes.

The Kurtzers were recorded receiving and discussing many of their kickback and bribe payments. After Yitzchok Kurtzer accepted a $5,000 cash kickback, he counted the money and said, “Perfect. Didn’t short me.”

The Kurtzers used their employees in the scheme, including Harris and Kennedy, who each helped collect the DNA swabs in exchange for payments to them. Robin Kurtzer was recorded admitting that Harris and Kennedy should not have to be “bribed” to do their work, but Robin Kurtzer said that she had no trouble “giving them money” as long as they produced results.

Yitzchok Kurtzer correlated genetic test swab collection to bribe and kickback payments, regardless of medical necessity. He instructed his staff to stop collecting genetic test swabs when he missed receiving a bribe and kickback payment, and he increased the volume of genetic test swabs when the kickback and bribe payments resumed. He admitted in a recording that he provided a patient false information to get the patient to agree to be swabbed for a genetic test. And unless a patient actively sought their genetic test results, Yitzchok Kurtzer failed to review or otherwise use those results.

Even as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic substantially reduced in-patient visits, the Kurtzers continued their scheme. They went from receiving hand-delivered cash kickbacks and bribes to accepting payments by wire and through a cell phone money-transfer app. Yitzchok Kurtzer also offered to pay one of his employees to collect genetic test swabs from all of his patients who lived in nursing homes.

As a result of these schemes, Medicare was billed over $1.3 million for tests generated from Yitzchok Kurtzer’s practice.