A Manteca oncologist that was fined $550,000 last week as part of a settlement with the United States Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services was swept up as part of a larger probe of an international distributor of non-FDA approved chemotherapy medication.
Dr. Prabhjit Purewal agreed to a settlement in the civil case in which in the United States alleged that he had unlawfully billed Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare for medications that were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The charges, according to his attorney – which weren’t ever formal or criminal – painted Purewal, who has never been sued for malpractice in his 21-years as an oncologist, in a negative light because it made it appear he was intentionally pushing unlicensed medication and then billing the taxpayers for personal gain.
In reality, according to Sacramento lawyer Ron Heller – who has tackled these kinds of cases before – Purewal had an office staffer purchase the medication through a distributor. And because it was determined that the distribution chain was providing medication that was manufactured outside of the country and brought-in without FDA oversight, the billing to any of the big three public healthcare systems constitutes its own violation.
“What we knew is that the drugs were not FDA approved and Dr. Purewal had a responsibility to verify that,” Heller said. “It was something that at the time was being done by an employee and there wasn’t much of a savings to him at the time – I believe that it was less than five percent. But it’s going to cost him a lot of money now.
“In these kinds of cases there is always monetary exposure, and this case was settled like most civil cases are. There was no admission of criminal or civil wrongdoing, and there was no language in the settlement that it was an admission of liability.”
And it appears that Purewal was not the initial target of the investigation.
Assistant United States Attorney Kurt Didier, who served as the case prosecutor, said that the doctor’s name surfaced as part of a larger investigation into a UK-based pharmaceutical company. The man involved with that network was eventually sentenced to 18-months in prison and fined $800,000 for his involvement with a shadowy network that prosecutors say distributed counterfeit chemotherapy drugs into the United States.
A pharmacy network linked to the UK-based man that was operated out of Montana was shut down by the FDA after it was sold to a Canadian distributor. The man that was believed to have been operating that business prior to its sale was brought up on criminal charges and was ultimately sentenced to probation and ordered to pay a massive fine.
Heller said that Purewal’s office administrator made the purchase from a distributor inside of the United States, and that there was absolutely no indication that any of the doctor’s patients were harmed or affected by the medications that were supplied.
“We were able to document, with medical records, that not a single patient was affected negatively by the medication that was received,” Heller said. “Chemotherapy, in laymans terms, is very much like a poison that is designed to attack cancer cells. And one of the results of chemotherapy is a reduction in the red blood cells and an increase in white blood cells.
“That’s something that’s closely monitored through blood that is drawn and tests that were down demonstrated that the chemo was performing as expected. There was no evidence that the medication introduced to any patient was harmed – every patient did well.”
Purewal has already paid $400,000 of the settlement amount to the United States.