A prominent Maryland doctor who promoted early access to COVID-19 testing during the coronavirus pandemic, and was once awarded a citation for his work by then-Gov. Larry Hogan, was convicted in federal court of health care fraud.
Dr. Ron Elfenbein, 49, of Arnold was found guilty of submitting up to $15 million in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare and other insurers for COVID tests at sites he operated, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Maryland announced this weekend. The doctor, one of several charged with similar fraud, is the first convicted at trial by the Justice Department for COVID testing-related fraud, the office said.
The doctor owns Gambrills-based Drs ERgent Care, which operates as First Call Medical Center and Chesapeake ERgent Care in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties. He also operated an urgent care center that tested people at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Martin S. Himeles Jr., Elfenbein’s attorney, said the doctor was “very disappointed” in the trial result.
“He maintains his innocence,” Himeles said. “We are exploring our options including appellate options and intend to pursue them vigorously.”
Elfenbein faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for each of the five counts of health care fraud for which he was convicted. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 7.
The Justice Department announced the charges against Elfenbein in April 2022. The indictment said he operated primarily drive-through COVID testing sites that quickly swabbed patients but instructed employees to bill for not only the tests but for more complex office visits lasting more than 30 minutes.
The indictment initially indicated he submitted claims of more than $1.5 million to the insurers for services not provided. That was later revised to up to $15 million from tests performed at his sites, for which Elfenbein is no longer listed as medical director. No other employees of the urgent care centers were charged with a crime. The BWI site closed in March at the end of its lease, airport officials said.
The Justice Department announced criminal charges against 18 defendants in nine districts across the country on the same day, all accused of exploiting taxpayers during the pandemic. The schemes, officials said, totaled more than $149 million in false billing to federal programs. Officials said they had already seized more than $8 million in cash and other fraud proceeds.
“The indictment alleges that Ron Elfenbein took advantage of a national health crisis to line his own pockets,” said Erek L. Barron, U.S. Attorney for Maryland, in a statement after the indictment. “Our office has and will continue to investigate and prosecute fraud by anyone who used the COVID-19 pandemic to defraud individuals or the government.”