SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Sanford Health has agreed to pay more than $20 million to the federal government in a settlement for kickback schemes involving Dr. Wilson Asfora’s medical devices. 

According to the federal government, Sanford Health was aware that Dr. Asfora was improperly profiting from his use of implanted devices by his doctor-owned distributorship of those devices, including the bullet cages, cervical plates, Samba screws and Aegis devices. Sanford Health denies any wrongdoing.

Sanford knew of the kickback scheme associated with submitting claims to federal health programs for surgeries where Dr. Asfora profited. Those claims went to Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE and the VA.

“Kickbacks can compromise a physician’s medical judgment, result in unnecessary procedures, and increase healthcare costs for everyone,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.  “We will continue to hold healthcare providers accountable when they violate the rules intended to safeguard the integrity of federal healthcare programs and the welfare of their beneficiaries.”

Sanford was warned many of Dr. Asfora’s surgical procedures were unnecessary,  where he used his own devices. 

The federal lawsuit was instigated in 2016 by two whistle blowers, Dr. Dustin Bechtold and Dr. Bryan Wellman, who will receive $3.4 million in the settlement from Sanford.

Sanford Health fired Dr. Asfora on September 24th. Sanford also says in the settlement that it has taken steps to stop all Sanford physicians from profiting from their choice of medical devices. 

“Kickback schemes and other improper financial incentives create inherent conflicts of interest and warp the medical decision-making process,” said U.S. Attorney Ron Parsons for the District of South Dakota.  “This office will continue to aggressively pursue anyone who colludes to violate federal law and compromise the integrity of our healthcare system.”

KELOLAND News received this statement from Dr. Wilson Asfora:

I understand the news came out today of Sanford’s settlement with the Government.  I want to make my position clear.  I did not perform any unnecessary surgeries and I did not do any surgeries for the purpose of profiting from using medical devices I invented.  I stand by my work as a physician and made every single medical decision based solely on my judgment as to what was the best for my patient, not myself.  I am disappointed that after originally accurately identifying the relators’ and the Government’s accusations as “bogus,” Sanford made business decisions that led it to fire me and pay my accusers over $20 million, but, sadly, for some business is just business. 

Wilson Asfora, MD

Sanford Health released this statement on the settlement:

Sanford Health is committed to providing the highest quality care to our patients. Sanford denies any liability or wrongdoing in regards to this settlement. We chose to settle because the amount is far less than the unnecessary costs and operational disruption that would have persisted for multiple years. We continue to stand behind the medical care that Dr. Wilson Asfora, who was a Sanford physician from 2007 to 2019, provided to his patients. We remain committed to our providers doing what is best for their patients and supporting them in bringing innovative interventions and treatments to patients and communities.  

Matt Hocks, chief operating officer at Sanford Health

Sanford Communications also shared an internal email sent to staff.