Spokane, Washington – Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced today that Christopher B. Bjarke, M.D., age 61, of Renton, Washington, pled guilty to conspiring to accept kickbacks in connection with a fraudulent genetic testing scheme that targeted elderly Medicare beneficiaries throughout Washington and in other states. Senior District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson accepted Dr. Bjarke’s guilty plea, and set sentencing for January 10, 2023 at 1:30 p.m. in Spokane, Washington.
The Medicare program provides health insurance coverage for elderly and disabled Americans. Medicare generally provides coverage for diagnostic laboratory testing only if the test is ordered by a physician who is treating the beneficiary for a specific medical problem, and uses the test results to treat the patient for that specific problem. According to the Plea Agreement and information disclosed in court proceedings, Dr. Bjarke engaged in a conspiracy and scheme through which he placed orders for Medicare for genetic testing for Medicare beneficiaries in the Eastern District of Washington and elsewhere that he was not treating and with whom he had no physician-patient relationship. According to the Plea Agreement and other court documents, Dr. Bjarke’s sole contact with these patients was when he was connected with the beneficiaries for a telephone call for a few minutes through telemarketers. After Dr. Bjarke had ordered the tests, the laboratories then billed Medicare for the test, while another company billed Medicare for a purported “telemedicine” visit, sometimes for as much as tens of thousands of dollars.
According to the Plea Agreement, through this scheme and conspiracy, Dr. Bjarke’s orders were responsible for more than $18.6 million paid by Medicare. In return for his participation in the scheme, between December 2020 and September 2021, Dr. Bjarke received $167,996.73 from his co-conspirators, which Dr. Bjarke admitted were kickbacks because they constituted payment in return for ordering medically unnecessary genetic testing and other services for patients that he was not treating and with whom he had no physician-patient relationship.
“Health care fraud and kickback schemes are serious public health and safety problems,” said U.S. Attorney Waldref. “They divert precious public funds away from treating patients, drive up the cost of health care services, and undermine trust in our health care system, often putting quality health care beyond the reach of those who need it the most. Telemarketing schemes that target and exploit the elderly are especially pernicious because they prey on those who are often most in need of a doctor’s independent judgment that is not tainted or biased by the doctor’s own personal financial interest.”
“Dr. Bjarke placed making money above the welfare of patients and preyed upon elderly and vulnerable members of the community,” said Richard A. Collodi, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Seattle Field Office. “This conspiracy not only victimized taxpayers via Medicare, but also impacted the patients, who underwent unnecessary medical screenings, thereby affecting their peace of mind. Medicare ultimately paid over $18 million for medically unnecessary testing, a fact that should outrage every law-abiding taxpayer.”
“I am grateful for, and commend, the stellar investigative work on this case performed by HHS OIG and the FBI,” said U.S. Attorney Waldref. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to make our communities safer and stronger, by aggressively pursuing telemedicine kickback schemes, healthcare fraud, and elder abuse.”
The conspiracy offense carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in federal prison. The case was investigated by HHS OIG and the FBI. Assistant United States Attorneys Dan Fruchter and Tyler H.L. Tornabene are prosecuting this case on behalf of the United States.