Feds Go After Doctors -- And Their Lawyers
April 20, 1999
In an effort to root out Medicare fraud, government lawyers are employing some questionable tactics, legal observers report. Wire taps and undercover agents -- heretofore used to fight organized crime -- are being directed against doctors suspected of accepting kickbacks for referring their patients to nursing homes, hospitals or specialists. High-level health-care executives are also being targeted, according to reports.
- Such tactics are being employed because the law says the government must prove that those accused of accepting payments for patient referrals did so "knowingly and willfully" -- which is often difficult to prove.
- Formerly, the hard-ball strategies had been reserved for investigations of drug kingpins and mob bosses.
- Moreover, attorneys who counsel physicians and others charged with accepting kickbacks -- who thought conversations with their clients were privileged -- now may be targeted as conspirators.
- Providers convicted of taking kickbacks cannot participate in Medicare, Medicaid or other federal health programs for five years -- long enough to destroy a medical practice.
Those convicted of criminal fraud also face stiff fines and prison terms.
Health-care companies are reportedly turning over their top executives and even whole subsidiaries to the government so they can continue taking Medicare and Medicaid patients. Also, reports of a federal probe can send the stocks of health-care firms plunging as investors panic.
Prosecutors have more federal money and now new tactics, as well as an edict from Attorney General Janet Reno to fight health-care fraud as their second highest priority -- second only to violent crime. In the process, the Clinton administration is charged with being willing to sacrifice the doctrine of attorney-client privilege.
Source: Ursula Himali, "Treating Doctors Like Mobsters," Investor's Business Daily, April 20, 1999.
Browse more articles on Health Issues