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Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, Inc.
A Voice for Private Physicians Since 1943
Omnia pro aegroto

AUGUST 24, 2000


Contact: Kathryn Serkes (202) 333-3855


Doctors Must Play Regulatory Roulette to Avoid Harming Patients

Medicare endangers seniors, rations care and punishes the best doctors whose only aim is to give the best care. For the sake of patients and integrity of the profession, doctors should get out of Medicare.

Thatís the warning from the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons as it declares the 6th annual "Medicare Patient Freedom Day." Medicare begins its 36th year this month.

"Medicare sentences seniors to lousy care, delayed care or even death," said Dr. Jane M. Orient, AAPS Executive Director. "Doctors should refuse to be willing participants in this game of regulatory Russian roulette."

An AAPS survey of doctors reveals that Medicare rules and government threats to prosecute doctors make it more difficult for seniors to receive appropriate, necessary and timely medical care because doctors are afraid to treat tricky cases or take on new patients. Doctors spend less time practicing medicine and more complying with incomprehensible government regulations -- more than 110,000 pages.

"Spin the wheel in favor of your patient, go to jail or pay tens of thousands of dollars. The people President Clinton calls Medicare cheats are often doctors who give patients the best care. But if a government bureaucrat deems the treatment unnecessary or inappropriate, itís called fraud, and the doctor is pronounced a criminal," said Dr.Orient.

The HHS Inspector General admits that most doctors are honest. But to some prosecutors, there is no thing as a honest mistake. "Intent to defraud no longer matters. This Administration has chosen to cast a web so wide that honest doctors are ensnared. The results are ruined lives, both professionally and financially," said Dr. Orient.

AAPS President, Lawrence Huntoon, a Jamestown, N.Y. neurologist, is one who spun the wheel in favor for his patients and lost. Dr. Huntoon routinely performed two blood vessel examinations to determine stroke risk. If done on two different days, $32.10 would be allowed. If at the same time, only $16.05. Dr. Huntoon choose to not make his elderly patients return and paid a steep price.

Medicare sent letters to his patients sternly warning them that their doctor broke the law by charging more than zero for the exams. After more than a year and hundreds of hours of appeals, the decision was reversed, but only after Dr. Huntoon had been slandered to his patients.

"In the name of cost-cutting, federal bean counters have destroyed the patient-physician trust, and created an atmosphere of fear in which physicians must now practice the art of medicine," said Dr. Orient.

Federal officers raided the home and office of Dr. Danny Westmoreland. They held his 9-year-old son, staff and patients at gunpoint while they seized files. A judge eventually threw out the case, but only after Dr. Westmorelandís reputation, practice and finances were devastated.

Medicare also makes it impossible for doctors to provide free medical care under threat of criminal prosecution. In 1995, AAPS marked the first "Medicare Patient Freedom Day" by treating patients for $1 cash, while refusing to file claims for reimbursement from taxpayers. The government responded by saying it was illegal not to file a claim for payment.

Many doctors have resigned from Medicare. Dr. Nino Carmardese still treats Medicare patients, but at no charge. Neurosurgeon Michael Schlitt has accepted a model ship as payment for back surgery, and performed brain surgery for one dollar. Dr. John Bennett published his "Declaration of Independence from Medicare" stating, "I find that I must choose between the practice of Medicine and the practice of Medicare; I choose the practice of Medicine."

All report enthusiastic patient support. Any financial impact "is more than compensated by the freedom to make the right decision for my patients and the relief of getting the government out of my operating room," said Dr. Schlitt.

Other groups are catching on to the Medicare mess. Veteransí groups are waging a full-out battle on Capitol Hill to prevent Congress from rolling VA coverage for seniors into Medicare.

"Medicare is socialized medicine at its worst," concluded Dr. Orient. "Itís time for doctors to stand up for their patients and send government out the door."

AAPS is a professional association of physicians in all specialties dedicated to the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship since 1943.


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