California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced a settlement with a Los Angeles-based plastic surgeon accused of defrauding California’s Medicaid program, Medi-Cal, of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Dr. Joel Aronowitz allegedly overbilled Medi-Cal for skin grafts and skin wound treatments over a six-year period, resulting in an estimated $248,809 in damages to California taxpayer funds. He will pay double that amount — $497,619 — to the state to resolve the allegations against him.
“The Medi-Cal system is a lifeline that provides access to free or affordable healthcare services for millions of Californians,” said Attorney General Bonta. “When bad actors abuse or defraud it, they drain away funds meant to help people with limited income and resources get the healthcare they need. Let this settlement serve as a warning: The California Department of Justice will not tolerate Medi-Cal fraud — we will bring back every cent stolen from hardworking taxpayers, and we will hold bad actors accountable.”
Dr. Aronowitz ran a practice, Tower Wound Care Center of Santa Monica, Inc., that provided wound care services to Medi-Cal recipients in the Los Angeles area. Investigators found evidence that between 2015 and 2021, he engaged in fraudulent billing schemes designed to illegally inflate Medicare and Medi-Cal reimbursements, by billing for wound care procedures as if they took place in an ambulatory surgery center, when in fact they occurred in Dr. Aronowitz’ medical office; and reusing unused portions of ‘single-use’ skin substitute products and billing as if the portions were new and unopened. These alleged practices violated California’s False Claims Act and resulted in a net loss of $248,809 in Medi-Cal funds.
Under the terms of this settlement agreement, Dr. Aronowitz will pay California ‘double damages’ of $497,619 as restitution for its Medi-Cal losses. The investigation and settlement negotiations were jointly carried out by the California Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. Under the settlement, the federal government will recover separate funds for losses to the Medicare program and its share of the Medicaid losses.
The DOJ’s Division of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (DMFEA) protects Californians by investigating and prosecuting those who defraud the Medi-Cal program.
DMFEA receives 75% of its funding from the United States Department of Health and Human Services under a grant award totaling $53,792,132 for federal fiscal year 2022-2023 The remaining 25% is funded by the State of California. The federal fiscal year is defined as October 1, 2022, through September 30, 2023.
The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.
A copy of the settlement agreement can be found here.