Many people believe in the healing power of prayer.
But should that power come at the expense of taxpayers?
NewsChannel 5 Investigates learned one local doctor may have billed Medicare for more than just medicine.
Investigative reporter Ben Hall tracked down the doctor who was apparently taking taxpayer money to pray with patients.
The power of prayer can get people through tough times and people have traditionally given it freely, but investigators said a Midstate psychiatrist and minister paid church members to visit nursing home patients and then charged taxpayers.
When asked if he used unlicensed people to bill Medicare for psychotherapy services, Dr. Cupid Poe said, "No comment."
Poe declined comment, but court documents obtained by NewsChannel 5 indicate that agents raised questions about whether he fraudulently billed Medicare for more than $250,000.
Poe often used well-meaning church members to provide psychotherapy.
"I observed them as a therapist and a counselor, a medical therapist and a medical counselor," said Delano Avent.
Court documents indicate Avent was one of Poe's former patients. Poe invited him to church.
Avent said Poe paid him to meet with nursing home patients.
Investigators said Poe billed Medicare as if the patients received psychotherapy services.
When asked what type of training he had, Avent replied, "I have training with my family."
Despite the lack of training, investigators said he treated six residents at the Briley Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
"I would ask them how they are doing. ‘How do you feel? Did you like your lunch? Did you like your dinner?'" Avent said.
That, federal agents said, does not constitute psychotherapy.
But Avent was not alone.
"We don't bill nobody. What we do, we just pick and sing and go home," said J.D. Russell, a minister.
Russell and his wife said they didn't know Poe was billing Medicare. They visited nursing home patients and held worship services.
When asked if what they did was considered to be psychotherapy, Russell said
"No picking and singing, I don't think, comes nowhere near it," Russell said.
Court documents showed that Poe told federal investigators he used "extenders" to treat patients - "people operating under his supervision."
Poe used people such as the Russells, Avent as well as his daughter, a licensed cosmetologist. She is not a licensed psychiatrist.
Investigators started looking into Poe when they noticed that he billed Medicare for more than 24 hours of psychotherapy services in a single day 50 times.
There were other concerns as well.
In his own counseling sessions Poe told investigators "he asks if the patient would like to sing a song; reads a verse or two of scripture; and closes with a prayer." He also said he "generally spends 20 minutes" with a patient instead of the required 50.
"I don't believe we are going to find therapy that can substitute for the healing power of God," Poe said during a television interview with Dr. James Haney, who hosts a program on local television.
Poe has done many television interviews talking about Christian counseling.
"My job and concern was to observe them and sing hymns with them," Avent said.
He believes anyone was qualified to do it.
But should taxpayers pay for it?
"Do you think taxpayers deserve an explanation?" Hall asked Poe, who did not answer.
His attorney said his client is cooperating with the investigation and he hopes to reach some kind of resolution with the federal government.
Poe billed Medicare between 2004 and 2006.
His attorney said there has been a lot of negotiating back and forth. The federal government wants to send a message that it's cracking down on Medicare fraud.
Medicare fraud by doctors and patients has grown in recent years. Last year, federal officials said investigators discovered more than $3 billion in fraud.
Dr. Cupid Poe is not connected with Catholic Diocese of Nashville.
A multimillion-dollar contract for maintenance on state vehicles was supposed to save taxpayers' money. But "NewsChannel 5 Investigates" discovered some examples where you're actually paying more.more>>
A multimillion-dollar contract for maintenance on state vehicles was supposed to save taxpayers' money. But "NewsChannel 5 Investigates" discovered some examples where you're actually paying more. more>>