Friday, November 16, 2001

False billings net doctor 18
months in fed prison

By Debra Barayuga

A doctor known for his compassion and dedication in treating generations of patients from his Wahiawa clinic was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison yesterday for submitting false billings to the Hawaii Medical Service Association and Medicaid.

Sze Ming Suen, 63, of Mililani apologized for his conduct, saying his actions have cost him his career and brought shame and embarrassment on his family, friends, patients and profession.

Suen pleaded guilty in March to allowing a pharmacy technician to order and dispense drugs to patients without his supervision, then billing HMSA and Medicaid as though he had personally rendered the services.

U.S. District Judge Alan Kay also gave Suen three years of supervised release. Suen was ordered to turn himself in to the Bureau of Prisons on March 18, 2002. He is continuing to practice medicine until his license is taken away.

A 14-count indictment in April alleged he also had billed for more expensive brand-name drugs when patients were given cheaper, generic substitutes or for drugs that he did not provide at all.

In 1995 when interviewed by HMSA investigators, Suen admitted he knew the law required physicians to personally measure, package and dispense medication if he was going to bill for it, but was too busy to do it himself, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Tong.

Suen had been put on notice from 1993 when a state Department of Health inspector issued a written violation and warned him it was illegal to allow the technician to dispense drugs. The pharmacy technician reported Suen's practices after he fired her in July 1995.

Suen had contended that the technician had been stealing from him and that he was not aware of her irregular dispensing practices. He did not verify that she was labeling the medications properly or dispensing the proper medications, but signed the claim forms and received payment for the claims.

Defense attorney Brook Hart argued that Suen's "exceptional" acceptance of responsibility and efforts to make amends should be a basis for reducing his sentence.

Suen has paid HMSA $1.5 million in a settlement agreement and $384,849 to the state Department of Human Services.

Earlier this year, he also entered into a $2.1 million settlement with the U.S. government -- one of the highest Medicare or Medicaid recoveries against an individual doctor in Hawaii.

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