Health Care

KC pharmacist sentenced for health care fraud after co-worker blows whistle on him

A Kansas City pharmacist was sentenced on health care fraud charges this week in federal court after a co-worker blew the whistle on the $9.5 million Medicaid billing scheme.

Steven Baraban, who was in charge of the Stark Pharmacy location inside Research Medical Center, pleaded guilty to his role in the fraud in February. He was sentenced Tuesday to three years probation and agreed to pay about $125,000 in restitution.

That’s in addition to the $2.2 million he paid to resolve his role in the whistleblower suit brought by Lenexa pharmacist Emily Barnes, who worked under Baraban for five months in 2015.

Prosecutors said they agreed to a plea deal that gives Baraban, 67, no prison time because of the amount of money he has paid and because he agreed to surrender his Missouri pharmacist license.

“As a pharmacist for many years, he earned significant income, but he will never again be allowed to earn a livelihood in that profession,” they wrote in their sentencing memo. “Nor will he ever be allowed to bill Medicaid again. These are significant consequences for a man who was a pharmacist for more than three decades.”

Public records show that Baraban surrendered his Missouri license on Jan. 28, but his Kansas license has remained active. It expires on Sunday and his plea deal bars him from applying for a new one anywhere in the country for five years.

Baraban pleaded guilty to billing Medicaid about $120,000 for compounded pain creams that were never delivered to patients and about another $5,000 for a prescription that the pharmacy later returned to its supplier for a full refund.

Barnes’ suit contained allegations related to that and a host of other offenses, including auto-filling pain cream prescriptions without patients’ consent, changing prescriptions without a doctor’s authorization to pump up reimbursements and charging full price for prescriptions that were only partially filled.

She also alleged that the pharmacy sometimes filled prescriptions for one medication, but then billed Medicare and Medicaid for something similar that paid out more.

Baraban was one of three managing partners at Stark Pharmacy, which also had a location inside Menorah Medical Center in Overland Park.

The pharmacy is not associated with the hospitals, but rather rents space inside them through a property manager. The pharmacy’s namesake, Howard Stark, also has nothing to do with the fraud, having sold the business to Baraban and his partners in 2000.

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Kansas City Star health reporter Andy Marso was part of a Pulitzer Prize-finalist team at The Star and previously won state and regional awards at the Topeka Capital-Journal and Kansas Health Institute News Service. He has written two books, including one about his near-fatal bout with meningitis.