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Raleigh doctor found guilty of defrauding Medicare, using unsanitary equipment

A jury found a local doctor guilty of tens of charges related to surgeries she performed with previously used, unsanitary equipment, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina announced Friday.

Dr. Anita Louise Jackson, an ear, nose and throat doctor who ran a practice with locations in central North Carolina, fraudulently generated millions of dollars from these procedures, the jury found.

Jackson was a research professor at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy between 2017 and 2019. She also served as Durham County’s public health medical director, an appointment that was put under review following her federal indictment.

Gov. Roy Cooper appointed Jackson, then a Raleigh resident, to the North Carolina Medical Care Commission in 2020. She is no longer listed as a member on the Department of Health’s website.

The case against Jackson centered around an outpatient nasal surgery, called a sinuplasty, in which surgeons inflate a small balloon placed through the nose to improve sinus air flow. Prosecutors argued that she made hundreds of thousands of dollars by reusing a balloon on several patients, rather than discarding it after one use, as is mandated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Prosecutors found she bought 36 of these balloon devices between 2012 and 2017, despite performing 1400 surgeries in that same time period.

“This doctor put profit ahead of patients, luring in Medicare patients with free “sinus spas” and risking infection to those patients by reusing the same single-use surgical devices on them again and again,” Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of NC, said in a press release.

Jackson, one of the highest-paid providers for this procedure in the U.S., billed Medicare more than $46 million dollars for the procedures. The jury ordered Jackson to pay back the more than $4.79 million she netted from the sinuplasties.

When Medicare contractors began auditing her practice in 2017, Jackson fabricated medical records to justify the billing of balloon sinuplasty surgeries, which the jury concluded was mail fraud, federal officials say. The jury also found her guilty of aggravated identity theft based on evidence that she forged patient signatures on documents that declared Jackson performed a sinuplasty on them and that they needed the surgery, the press release said.

Jackson was also convicted on ten counts of illegally “inducing” her patients to receive the surgery. Her practice marketed the surgery as a “sinus spa” and concealed the full price of the procedure to patients.

“(Jackson) induced her patients to receive a treatment they may not need, or may not have agreed to, had the full out-of-pocket cost to the patient been disclosed,” the press release said.

Jackson was taken into custody as she awaits sentencing, the press release said. One of her convictions, aggravated identity theft, carries a two-year mandatory prison sentence.

“It is disturbing when fraudsters exploit vulnerable Medicare enrollees and defraud federal health care programs for personal gain,” said special agent in charge Tamala E. Miles from the Office of the Inspector General.

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Teddy Rosenbluth covers science and healthcare for The News & Observer in a position funded by Duke Health and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work