Feds: York doctor peddled opioids, committed health care fraud

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

A York-area doctor is one of about 600 people charged with health care fraud and other offenses as part of a national "takedown" by federal investigators targeting schemes that fraudulently billed the government for about $2 billion, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The schemes targeted Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE, which is a health-insurance program for members of the military and military veterans, according to a news release from Dawn Mayko, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Harrisburg.

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"The charges also involve individuals contributing to the opioid epidemic, with a particular focus on medical professionals involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics," the release states.

On average, 115 people die every day in the United States of opioid-related overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Robert Stremmel, 74, whose practice is at 1748 Sixth Ave. in Spring Garden Township, faces 30 criminal counts in federal court, according to court records.

They include charges for allegedly dispensing opioids and amphetamines "outside the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose," his indictment alleges.

The indictment states that between July 2013 and January 2018, Stremmel distributed tens of thousands of oxycodone and amphetamine pills, as well as Xanax, codeine and the narcotic Tramadol.

Stremmel is an osteopathic physician and surgeon whose medical license is listed as active, according to Pennsylvania Department of State records.

"Dr. Stremmel just recently became aware of the indictment, and at this point in the proceedings, these are allegations only," said attorney Douglas France. "He looks forward to participating in the process to eventually resolve the charges listed in the indictment."

Fraud alleged: Stremmel's indictment also alleges that he "knowingly and willfully made materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements and representations in connection with the delivery of, and payment for health care benefits, items and services involving a health care benefit program."

It alleges Stremmel submitted Medicare claims for services he knew weren't legitimate, then falsified records to cover it up.

In August 2017, Stremmel prescribed cough syrup with codeine to a patient who had no pain and no cough but who told him she didn't like to drink alcohol and "needed to take a substance to get her through the day," the indictment states.

He then noted in her medical chart that the patient had a chronic cough and pain, thereby defrauding a health care program, according to his indictment.

Stremmel "shall forfeit to the United States of America any property constituting or derived from any proceeds obtained, directly or indirectly, as the result of such offenses and any property used ... to commit, or to facilitate the commission of, the offenses," the indictment states.

More:Meet me at the prison: York-area scam targets doctors

More:10 face charges in York County for statewide prescription drug ring

License, registration: That includes his Pennsylvania medical license and his Drug Enforcement Administration registration number, which the indictment states allows him to distribute controlled substances.

The U.S. Attorney's Office news release states that during "Takedown Day" on Thursday, June 28, a total of 601 people were charged across the country, including 165 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for health care fraud schemes.

Also charged were 10 people in Cumberland and Perry counties who are accused of working together to forge prescriptions for oxycodone, according to the release. They include David Allen Hunsicker, 48, who has a Dillsburg address.

Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged more than 3,700 defendants who, collectively, have falsely billed Medicare for more than $14 billion, according to the release.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.