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HEALTH CARE

Local doctor pays $1 million to settle Medicaid investigation

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A Carroll ear, nose and throat doctor will pay $1 million to end a federal investigation into Medicaid claims he made for alleged “improper” procedures.

Tracey Wellendorf, 59, disputes the allegations and said in a press release that the agreement with federal prosecutors was “in the best interests of our staff, our patients and the communities we serve.”

“There are areas of medicine where, we believe, reasonable people can disagree about the best treatment course for a patient,” Wellendorf said. “Unfortunately, in today’s highly-regulated medical environment, those disagreements can become very substantial legal disputes.”

The allegations against Wellendorf are centered on more than 100 sinus procedures he performed between October 2014 and November 2015 that investigators found were “improper either because they did not meet the applicable medical necessity standard or were otherwise incorrectly coded for payment,” according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Iowa.

In addition to the $1 million payment, Wellendorf will be subject to three years of supervision by an “independent review organization” that will analyze his work to be sure it doesn’t violate the False Claims Act, which can be used to punish those who defraud the federal government.

“Medical providers who perform unnecessary procedures or wrongfully code claims violate the public trust,” U.S. Attorney Peter E. Deegan, Jr., said in a press release. “This settlement (with Wellendorf) is another indication of our office’s dedication to vigorous enforcement of the False Claims Act and our unyielding effort to protect patients, save taxpayer money and ensure a fair marketplace for honest practitioners.”

Wellendorf could not be reached to comment for this article, but his attorney Mark Weinhardt, of Des Moines, told the Times Herald that the alleged unnecessary procedures were “a very small percentage of the total procedures that he would have in a year.”

Weinhardt said Wellendorf is not being investigated by the Iowa Board of Medicine, which oversees the licensing of doctors in the state.

Wellendorf first received his license in 1995, according to state records.

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