Massachusetts Gynecologist Spared Jail Time for Criminal HIPAA Violation

In April 2018, the former Massachusetts-based gynecologist Rita Luthra, 65, of Longmeadow, was convicted of criminally violating the HIPAA Privacy Rule and obstructing a federal investigation into a nationwide kickback scheme. At her sentencing on September 19, 2018, Luthra was spared jail time and a fine and was given one year of probation.

Luthra was accused of being paid $23,500 to prescribe Warner Chilcott’s osteoporosis drugs, although Luthra maintained she had been paid the money as ‘speaker fees’ for speaking at medical educational events, which took place in her office, and for writing a research paper, although that paper was never finished. The jury found that Luthra lied to federal agents about money she had received from the pharmaceutical firm.

Luthra also denied providing a pharmaceutical sales representative with access to patient health information in order to complete pre-authorization forms for insurance companies that were refusing to approve prescriptions for two osteoporosis drugs that Warner Chilcott was pushing. She also allegedly instructed her assistant to lie to federal investigators and back up her story. The jury also found that Luthra had violated the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

After Luthra was arrested she lost her license to practice and also faced up to six years in jail with one year of supervised release and a maximum fine of $300,000 – $50,000 for the HIPAA violation and $250,000 for obstruction. However, U.S. District Judge Mark G. Mastroianni opted for leniency and sentenced Luthra to just one year of probation. Prosecutors were pushing for Luthra to receive a jail term of two and a half years and pay a financial penalty of $40,000. Judge Mastroianni also rejected the defense’s argument that she should be given community service.

Luthra’s lawyer, Stephen Spelman, said “Dr. Rita Luthra dedicates herself to serving others, and spends her professional lifetime treating women and girls from the disadvantaged communities in Western Massachusetts, never caring whether her patients could pay.”

Spelman also explained in a presentencing memo that Luthra “Suffered repeated beatings by her husband, who on multiple occasions tried to amputate her fingers with knives – because she was a surgeon. After one particularly vicious assault, she left the marriage, fleeing her marital home on a snowy night with literally nothing but the clothes on her back.”

It was Luthra’s work with disadvantaged women and girls in the impoverished areas of Springfield that prompted Judge Mastroianni to reject the prosecutors’ recommendation of a fine and to spare Luthra jail time. Prosecutors were pushing for jail time and a fine to serve as a deterrent, although Judge Mastroianni explained in his ruling, “Her loss of license and ability to practice is a substantial deterrent.”

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.