British Columbia

Pharmacist sentenced for fraudulent PharmaCare claims that benefited low-income patients

Jin Tong (Tom) Li, 41, pleaded guilty this week to one charge of obtaining more than $5,000 under a false pretense.

Jin Tong (Tom) Li of Richmond receives 12-month conditional sentence after guilty plea

Jin Tong (Tom) Li admitted to submitting fraudulent claims to PharmaCare more than 2,400 times. (CBC)

A Richmond pharmacist who submitted thousands of fraudulent claims to B.C.'s PharmaCare system, mainly to save money for his poor and elderly clients, has been sentenced to a year of house arrest.

Jin Tong (Tom) Li, 41, pleaded guilty this week to one charge of obtaining more than $5,000 under a false pretense.

That crime can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, but Provincial Court Judge Georgia Docolas said the 12-month conditional sentence recommended by Crown and defence lawyers was more appropriate.

"This is what I will describe as a low-sophistication crime, committed primarily to benefit his low-income, senior patients," Docolas said Wednesday.

Nonetheless, she added, Li's actions have had a serious impact.

"Any time there is a breach of trust involving a public body like PharmaCare ... the impact is high because it affects all British Columbians," the judge said.

Li sold his house to pay back the more than $616,000 he owed the province, the judge said, and he and his wife have had to move in with family. Li is now a stay-at-home dad to their three children while his wife had to go back to school so she could find a job to support the family.

Audit uncovers dishonest claims

Li's actions, which date from January 2013 to December 2014, were discovered during an audit. When the College of Pharmacists of B.C. investigated, he admitted to submitting more than 2,400 fraudulent claims to PharmaCare which covers eligible prescription drugs and medical supplies for B.C. residents enrolled in the province's medical services plan.

The court heard that Li would bill an expensive medication to the system, then reverse the claim so that patients wouldn't have to pay the deductibles.

The B.C. government has not tried to recover the unpaid deductibles, according to Docolas.

"I'm told this is due to the financial circumstances of the patients," she said.

As of January 2019, B.C.'s NDP government eliminated PharmaCare deductibles for families with annual incomes less than $13,750.

Li also admitted to the college that he processed blood glucose test strips through the province's central data system in much higher amounts than could be accounted for through his wholesaler invoices. The court heard that he often obtained these strips for his diabetes patients as samples, then billed them to PharmaCare at full price.

Glucose test strips help people with diabetes monitor their blood sugar levels. (Jackie McKay/CBC )

According to the college, Li acknowledged that he'd dispensed medications well above what had been authorized, dispensed incorrect medications and honoured invalid and incomplete prescriptions, as well as prescriptions under the name of an incorrect prescriber.

His registration as a pharmacist was suspended by the college for 540 days in October 2016, and he has been banned from owning a pharmacy for five years. Before his registration was reinstated in April 2018, Li had to complete an ethics course, review the law and sign a declaration acknowledging that he understands the legislation and will abide by it.

But with a criminal conviction on his record, it may be difficult for him to find a new job.

"He may never practise pharmacy again," Docolas said.

Li was also originally charged with two counts of fraud over $5,000, but those were both stayed by the Crown on Wednesday.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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