‘I was steeped in shame.’

Her parents went into debt to go into business with her, then bought property to deter Chemist Warehouse… and her pharmacy thrived. But this pharmacist decided to defraud Medicare

Reporter Eliza Barr of the Hornsby Advocate and Daily Telegraph has reported on the case of a Sydney pharmacist who made almost $366,000 worth of fraudulent claims to Medicare.

The claims concerned 524 fraudulent PBS prescription claims, made by the pharmacist using Medicare numbers for herself and family members, using provider numbers from other businesses – including her own GP.

The pharmacist fronted Sydney District Court, which heard that the single mother had been having health difficulties for some time, and that her marriage had failed, as had a later relationship.

She had once owned a successful pharmacy in a southern Sydney suburb, as well as a medical practice which her mother-in-law operated.

She then opened another pharmacy with her husband and sister in inner Sydney, but this second store was a “financial disaster,” the Court heard.

She was robbed at gunpoint, and then had an intimate relationship with a doctor who worked at her medical practice.

Both these businesses closed in 2007 and the pharmacist found work as a locum, but had another affair with a man she met while working, resulting in the end of her marriage.

She worked in two NSW regional towns as a pharmacist while living with her new partner, but described the second of these as an “utterly miserable” time.

She then went into business with her parents, and together they spent more than $2.7 million on a pharmacy on Sydney’s North Shore, going into debt with relatives and a bank, and dipping into her mother’s superannuation.

The business, purchased in October 2015, thrived, the Court heard.

“The pharmacy was required to drive a gross profit of 35% and (records show) it was driving at about 45%,” Judge Garry Neilson said.

The pharmacist’s parents, concerned that a Chemist Warehouse could open up next door to the existing pharmacy, even bought an adjacent pizza restaurant to deter the competition.

But stressed by the need to make a profit, and by expenses incurred during an unsuccessful attempt to have a second child via IVF, the pharmacist began to defraud Medicare.

This began less than two months after she and her parents had bought the North Shore pharmacy.

She used the details of 12 health care practitioners to effect the fraud.

“She would use the Medicare numbers of herself and members of her family whose identities she used to effect the fraudulent payments – they may well have been correct but there was no actual prescription provided, nor was any drug actually dispensed,” Judge Neilson said.

He quoted her as having said, “I don’t remember exactly when I decided to defraud Medicare, I’m at a loss to understand how I thought I was helping my parents overcome their financial woes”.

The business was booming, and the pharmacist had given evidence that, “my business broker was impressed with my ability to make a business so profitable, and my parents were proud of me for the first time in many years,” he noted.

Then the pharmacist visited her GP, and he told her she was being investigated for using his practice’s provider number in the fraud scheme.

“She says ‘I was steeped in shame’,” the judge noted, as she waited for the investigation to be completed.

Ms Barr reports that the pharmacist “narrowly” escaped a full-time custodial sentence for the fraud.

Instead she was handed an 18-month intensive corrections order, with 350 hours of community service.

The Court heard that she has committed to paying back the full amount she fraudulently claimed from Medicare – $365,922.09 in total. She reportedly plans to do so after selling the pharmacy.

The pharmacist’s registration is currently suspended.

Readers who are distressed or under pressure can contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service, which is available every day of the year between 8am and 11pm EST on 1300 244 910 or here

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