Georgia doctor accused of bilking Medicare of $1.5 million

A Ringgold doctor falsely diagnosed patients as suffering from heavy metal poisoning and then billed Medicare for their treatment, federal prosecutors allege in a Medicare fraud lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. district court in Atlanta.

Dr. Charles C. Adams perpetrated the scheme in Georgia for seven years, the government alleges, submitting some 4,500 claims and collecting about $1.5 million for what the lawsuit calls medically unnecessary chelation therapy.

He also put patients at risk of serious injury, the False Claims Act lawsuit alleges.

The drugs used in the treatment can cause serious side effects such as low blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms and kidney damage, and one of the chelating drugs has a "black box" warning that it can produce toxic effects that can be fatal. Medical authorities say the treatment should be administered only for a limited duration and only in cases where a blood test has found extremely high amounts of toxic metals.

But the government says Adams relied on a discredited and unreliable urine test for diagnosis and then convinced patients they had elevated levels of heavy metals and should have chelation to remove them. He also administered chelation treatment for as long as the patient wanted it, the suit alleges.

In one case, he chelated an 83-year-old Medicare beneficiary 36 times over 10 months, the suit says. In another, he chelated an 81-year-old 117 times over about 19 months.

Adams, who does business as Full Circle Medical Center and Personal Integrative Medicine, touted chelation to treat numerous conditions. His webpage has said it could be used as an anti-aging treatment, to stimulate bone growth, lower blood pressure and prevent cancer.

The suit also says that in sworn testimony Adams said he does not diagnose or treat lead poisoning or other forms of heavy metal poisoning, but instead treats “excess body burden of heavy metals.” In other testimony he has said that chelation is effective in “improving vision, increasing energy, reducing headaches” and promoting “an overall sense of well-being.” The lawsuit doesn’t explain the circumstances of the testimony, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

The suit seeks triple damages plus interest, disgorgement of all profits and civil penalties.

Adams lists a specialty as integrative medicine, which promotes combining scientic medical treatment with alternative therapies. He is president of the International College of Integrative Medicine, a nonprofit organization that provides chelation training.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked to speak with Adams about the suit, but he didn’t return a reporter’s phonecall.

Adams moved his practice to Georgia from Tennessee in 1998 because he believed Georgia “had more liberal standards concerning what types of treatments are appropriate for patients,” federal attorneys allege in their suit. Tennessee has a rule making it a violation for doctors to advertise use of a common chelating drug called EDTA to cure disease or medical conditions other than metal poisoning without support of scientific literature.

Adams has never been publicly disciplined by the Georgia Composite Medical Board or the medical board in Tennessee, where he is still licensed. The physician profile posted on the Georgia board’s website discloses that he had settled a malpractice case in 2008 for $450,000 and another in 2010 for $237,500. No details are given about those cases.

Georgia has sanctioned some other doctors in cases related to use of chelation therapy. In 2011, for example, the board ordered additional training for a doctor after a patient died during chelation treatment, concluding that the doctor had improperly diagnosed and treated her. In another case, a doctor came under board scrutiny after settling a malpractice case involving use of chelation to treat an 8-year-old autistic patient, and that doctor’s license eventually was revoked.

About chelation therapy

Chelation involves the use of chemicals to remove heavy metals, such as mercury, arsenic and lead, from the body. Often, the chemicals are administered in a series of intravenous infusions. Chelating agents require a prescription and must be given under medical supervision because they pose potentially dangerous side effects. Some alternative medicine practitioners claim that chelation can treat a wide range of ailments other than heavy metal poisoning, but medical authorities say available scientific evidence doesn’t support those claims.