The owners of a North Andover mental health practice have agreed to pay $612,000 in restitution to 232 patients who were illegally charged cash for opioid addiction treatment even though the patients were covered by the state’s Medicaid program.
Attorney General Maura Healey planned on Thursday to announce the settlement with the Center for Psychiatric Medicine and its owners, Dr. Thomas J. McLaughlin and Joseph Campione, calling it part of an ongoing effort to police Medicaid fraud in the addiction treatment business.
It’s illegal for a provider to charge Medicaid patients for a covered service.
But from 2010 through November 2015, the Center for Psychiatric Medicine regularly charged patients enrolled in MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, for Suboxone, a drug that treats opioid addiction by preventing withdrawal and reducing cravings. MassHealth covers Suboxone treatment.
Prosecutors allege that the center falsely told patients that it did not accept MassHealth. The center also told patients they could avoid required weekly therapy sessions and monthly doctor’s visits if they paid cash. The clinic charged as much as $325 for initial services and as much $200 for additional visits.
“This center stole from its own patients seeking treatment for opioid addiction and put up barriers that could have had fatal consequences,” Healey said in a statement.
McLaughlin and Campione did not reply to the Globe’s voice mail and e-mail requests for comment.
In April 2015, Healey’s office filed a complaint against the center in Essex Superior Court. In a summary judgment, the court found that the practice of taking money for treatment covered by MassHealth violates state regulations as well as state and federal law.
Patients may fall prey to cash-only Suboxone clinics because the medication is hard to get, even though Suboxone and other formulations of buprenorphine are considered standard treatments for addiction.
Federal regulations require physicians to undergo an eight-hour course before they can prescribe buprenorphine and limit the number of patients they can treat. Many physicians feel they don’t have time for the training and may also feel ill-equipped to manage addiction.
The $612,000 settlement will cover 100 percent of the illegal charges patients paid. Healey’s office will contact the patients in the coming weeks. Any money that can’t be returned will be transferred to the state’s Unclaimed Property Division and held until claimed by its rightful owner.
Healey’s office said it has been pursuing cash-only Suboxone clinics for some time and continues to actively investigate such cases.
In 2015, Dr. Joshua Golden and Dr. Masoud Shahidi agreed to pay a combined $445,720 for allegedly charging MassHealth patients cash for Suboxone.
Last November, Healey sent a letter to doctors who provide addiction treatment, warning them against requiring cash payments from MassHealth patients.
Healey urges anyone aware of similar practices to contact the attorney general’s Medicaid Fraud Division at 617-963-2360 or file a complaint through the attorney general’s website.
Felice J. Freyer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer.