A Williamsville physician who specializes in treating opioid addicts was arrested Friday on charges of overbilling health insurance companies by a total of $628,0000 – $147,000 of it for work he never did because he was not even in this country during the sessions.
Dr. Sreekrishna M. Cheruvu, 58, was remanded to the Erie County Holding Center after his arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder.
Cheruvu, who was born in India and lives in East Amherst, was arrested early Friday by FBI agents as a result of an investigation that began last November.
U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said that conviction of the charges of health care fraud and submitting false statements to private insurance companies carry a possible maximum federal prison term of 10 years and a $250,000 fine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney MaryEllen Kresse said Cheruvu is accused of submitting false and fraudulent claims to private insurance companies linked to the treatment of patients with opioid addictions between January 2009 and this past December. He is accused of falsely billing for individual counseling sessions when he or other associates in his office handled groups of eight to 15 patients in therapy sessions at his Williamsville office.
The investigation produced claims by some of Cheruvu’s patients that the group therapy sessions were conducted by counselors other than Cheruvu, though he billed insurance companies for conducting individual sessions with each patient, Kresse said. When Cheruvu did show up for some group therapy sessions, he stayed only for about 10 minutes either at the start or near the end of each session, his patients told FBI investigators, the prosecutor said.
Cheruvu’s Williamsville medical office was raided under a federal court warrant this past November and records seized showed that on numerous occasions Cheruvu billed insurance companies for therapy sessions he did not even attend, including bills totalling $147,000 for treatment sessions on dates when he was back in India or elsewhere, the prosecutor said.
Cheruvu is accused in the criminal complaint of wilfully defrauding the HealthNow, Independent Health and Excellus insurance companies.
Hochul said, “Perpetrating fraud on the health care industry drives up the cost for everyone, including taxpayers who fund government health care programs and all who contribute directly to their own health care costs.”
Cheruvu faces further court proceedings next week.