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La Jolla Cancer Doctor Pleads Guilty to Health Care Fraud

Dr. Joel I. Bernstein already entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanor count of introducing an unapproved drug into interstate commerce.

A prominent La Jolla oncologist and his corporate medical practice admitted importing unapproved foreign cancer drugs at a deep discount, dispensing them to unwitting patients, billing Medicare as if the drugs were legitimate and pocketing the profits, federal officials announced Wednesday.

Dr. Joel I. Bernstein entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanor count of introducing an unapproved drug into interstate commerce, a cancer drug called “Mabthera”—intended for market in Turkey—and administering it to patients.

The approved U.S. drug with the same active ingredient is Rituxan, which is used to treat lymphomas and leukemias such as Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Bernstein, 59, entered his plea on Jan. 15 was released pending sentencing, scheduled for April 16.

On Wednesday, the doctor's medical practice, Dr. Joel Bernstein M.D. Inc., pleaded guilty to health care fraud.

According to the plea agreement with the corporation, Bernstein's employees purchased $3.4 million of foreign cancer drugs, knowing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had not approved them for use in the United States.

From 2007 to 2011, Bernstein's office purchased the foreign drugs for significantly less than market value in the U.S. and then submitted claims to Medicare at the full reimbursement price, according to court papers.

The plea agreement for the corporation calls for $1.7 million in restitution to Medicare, plus forfeiture of $1.2 million in profits.

Authorities said the cases against Bernstein and his practice are the latest example of an alarming nationwide trend that potentially puts patients at risk by exposing them to foreign drugs—particularly injectable chemotherapy drugs—that are not vetted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

—City News Service

Mary Cloud April 14, 2013 at 11:43 PM
My favorite Dr. In the county. He is full of positive compassion and generous with his patients. The legal system in this country does not always reveal the facts. I have seen him walk out in the waiting room full of patients and kneel down in front of a very I'll woman, cuddle her face in his hands, full of naked love. She responded to his gentle touch. There was no one else in the room. I am a breast cancer survivor and Dread the day when we are reduced to the robotic Drs. Of England's NHS which this Government so clearly wants. Mary Cloud
mescobareck May 18, 2013 at 07:31 PM
Dr. Bernstein is one of the top Oncologists in the country. He is caring, brilliant and compassionate. What he did was wrong but he never put his patients needs or health care over anything. He is the reason my husband and countless others I know are alive today. You can't believe everything you read and I'm sure there are other facts in this case that are not all plainly obvious. I for one will always stand by him as a brilliant and compassionate doctor.
Osmith June 21, 2013 at 05:31 PM
After my husband had cancer surgery for stage II cancer we were referred to Bernstein who told my husband that his cancer would never return and that he didn't need any other treatments or chemo, even though the surgeon indicated my husband was a high risk stage II. Bernstein said no chemo or blood test or CT scan was needed, Bernstein ordered a CEA test 4 months after we had our first appointment with him, than we didn't hear from him for a follow up until I called 3 months later for another CEA test. Both CEA tests were elevated but Bernstein said it didn't mean anything not to worry. Because my husband and I were about to move out of state about 10 months after meeting with Bernstein, we asked Bernstein to order a CT scan because we needed his medical records and because my intuition told me something was wrong. The CT scan revealed that the cancer had progressed to stage IV and my husband and I were devastated. After reading what happened to Bernstein, I am not at all surprised...since my husband had medicare insurance and its been established that Bernstein pleaded guilty to billing medicare fraudulently. People like Laura Shepard, CathyF, MaryCloud and mescobareck need to carefully reconsider their thoughts and listen to people like deborah Taylor and me. My husband's current doctor had said he would have been curable at stage II but not at stage IV. Mescobareck...a caring, brilliant and compassionate oncologist does not do this to helpless patients ..you don't see him for what he REALLY is.
Osmith June 21, 2013 at 06:17 PM
After my husband had surgery for stage II cancer in July, we were referred to Bernstein for treatment. Bernstein told my husband that his cancer would never return that he had nothing to worry about. Bernstein said no chemo, blood test or CT scan was needed even though the cancer surgeon indicated that my husband was a high risk stage II. Four months after we first met with Bernstein, in November, he ordered a CEA test, than we didn't hear from him for over 3 months for a follow up. I called Bernstein's office at the end of February but they didn't return my calls for almost a week, when they finally return my called, another CEA test was done early March. I was concerned that both CEA tests showed an elevated reading but Bernstein said nothing was wrong, it was normal, my husband probably has a little virus or something. At the end of April, we saw Bernstein for the third time and he said everything's fine, nothing needed to be done. We told him that we were moving out of state and requested that he schedule a CT scan so we could take it to the new doctor, and he nervously did so. My intuition told me something was wrong and a week later we found out why. The CT scan revealed the cancer had become Stage IV and is now incurable. My husband and I were devastated. After reading what happened to Bernstein I am not at all surprised......since my husband had medicare insurance and Bernstein plead guilty to billing medicare fraudulently. People like Laura Shepard, CathyF, MaryCloud and mescobareck need to carefully reconsider their thoughts and please listen to people like deborah Taylor and me. To mescobareck...a caring, brilliant and compassionate oncologist does not do this to helpless patients who have place their trust in him with their lives. You don't see him for what he REALLY is.

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