A dental patient from East Hartford said she was billed thousands of dollars for a procedure that was not completed. Investigators said the dental clinic in question is connected to a man charged with bilking millions of Medicaid dollars out of the government.
Maria Ruiz and her husband received a flyer for Hartford Dental Care in May. It was good timing, since Ruiz was experiencing mouth pain.
Ruiz visited the dental facility and said she was urged to sign up for a third party financing plan called Care Credit. She said the clinic prescribed her medicine and told her she needed a root canal. Ruiz said she had some work done on her mouth, but she never received the full root canal after three visits to Hartford Dental Care.
"I also asked them why they didn't fix my teeth and they told me they will call me in two weeks," Ruiz said through an interpreter.
By then it was too late. Hartford Dental Care appeared to have permanently shut its doors.
A Connecticut Attorney General investigation resulted in federal agents arresting the owner, Gary Anusavice. Anusavice was charged with running a $20 million Medicaid fraud scheme at his clinics in West Haven, Trumbull and Stamford, which also appear to have closed.
"It's not clear that everybody who worked for these clinics were consciously aware that Anusavice was behind it all," said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen.
However, Ruiz got stuck with a near $3,800 bill from Care Credit. The Connecticut State Dental Association said a root canal would not cost that much by itself.
Through an emailed statement, Anusavice's lawyer said Ruiz's treatment was probably discontinued not because of fraud, but because the clinic was shut down after the government terminated its Medicaid practicing rights.
But Ruiz and her husband told the Troubleshooters she was not on Medicaid.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley obtained a judgment against Anusavaice in 2010, claiming Anusavice and others lured patients in with deceptive marketing, pressured patients to agree to costly dental treatments, then failed to complete the procedures or provided shoddy treatment.
"If they will ever do the treatment on me, if they get the work done on my teeth, then, yes, I will pay them, but how am I going to pay something that they never did," Ruiz said.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts required Anusavice to pay $237,500 for victim restitution and penalties as a result of the judgment.
Years earlier, Anusavice sustained a felony conviction in 1997 in Massachusetts for submitting false health care claims. In 1998, the federal government also banned him from participating in Medicare and Medicaid. According to the feds, the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Dentistry permanently revoked Anusavice's license to practice dentistry in Massachusetts in 2006.
Investigators said Anusavice opened his clinics in Connecticut and used a licensed dentist to act as the nominal head. According to the indictment, Anusavice, who is not licensed to practice dentistry in Connecticut, even reviewed patient charts and suggested dental procedures.
"They were fraudulently, in effect, billing the federal government for services," Jepsen said.
It's a big concern to the Connecticut State Dental Association.
"Anytime even one or two of these providers is alleged to have committed fraud, it reflects poorly on our profession as a whole," said CSDA president Dr. Carolyn Malon.
Jury selection for Anusavice's trial starts next January. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted.
The Troubleshooters contacted Care Credit, which then got in touch with Ruiz. Care Credit told the Troubleshooters it had tried to reach Ruiz, but apparently did not have her correct phone number. Ruiz said she is no longer on the hook for the $3,800 bill.
Care Credit said it is no longer working with Hartford Dental Care due to a pending investigation.
The Connecticut State Dental Association urges patients who are in need of a new dentist to ask friends and family members for referrals.
"They can tell you who their dentist is, whether this is somebody who they've been going to for a long time, how well they're cared for there," Malon said.
The CSDA also recommends would-be patients contact the Connecticut Dental Health Partnership here.