Report From the States
Physician Prosecution Gone Amok in Central Illinois
"Central Illinois is a 'hotbed' of unjustified prosecutions against physicians, according to a prominent Peoria doctor. Chester Danehower, president-elect of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), said every doctor in America should be worried about the growing trend, and every patient or potential patient should worry about the resulting erosion of medical care in this country.
"More than 100 Peoria-area physicians gathered last spring at Barrack's Cater Inn to hear Andrew L. Schlafly, Esq., general counsel for the association, describe some of the reasons physicians are being prosecuted and sent to prison.
"The bulk of the charges in the 15 active cases Schlafly is involved with concern billing codes for Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements.
"The guidelines for Medicare are 132,000 pages, according to Danehower, 'enough to make the IRS look like child's play.'
" 'Once the government targets a physician, it can run right over that person, whether he is guilty or not,' Schlafly said. 'Central Illinois is one of the worst places in the nation for prosecution of doctors...'
" 'In many of these cases, the trial is an ambush,' Schlafly said. 'It's easier for the government to go after doctors than real criminals. Doctors are trusting and tend to cooperate. They are easy targets to prosecute and the government can get large financial settlements from doctors.'
"One strategy, Schlafly said, is to threaten an indictment in order to get targeted doctors to pay millions of dollars in fines to avoid prosecution.
"The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 is providing the money for these prosecutions. In Tampa, Florida, those revenues are funding 20 full-time FBI agents looking for fraud in health care, he said.
"Punishment in these cases is way out of proportion to the alleged offenses, he said. In many cases, besides heavy fines and jail time, physicians lose their medical licenses...."
Clare Howard, The Journal Star, February 21, 2002, http://www.pgstar.com/news/local.
Originally published in the Medical Sentinel 2002;7(3):98-99. Copyright©2002
Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS)