“Elyria Hospital, Doctors to Settle Medicare Heart Stent Allegations.” read the headline of the Cleveland Plain Dealer this past Saturday. Imagine, if you will, that you’ve been a patient at EMH Medical Center near Cleveland.
And, you say to yourself, “Wait a minute … that’s where I had my heart stent procedure done.”
As you feverishly read the story, you learn that the EMH Elyria hospital and the affiliated physician practice, North Ohio Heart Center, agreed to pay the federal government $4.4 million dollars to settle allegations that the hospital, over a 6 year period, billed Medicare for implanting heart stents in patients who didn’t need them. Patients, just like you, who trusted the hospital with their health and their life.
In this flush of shock and anger you ask yourself, “Are my stents unnecessary…did I endure this high risk and expensive procedure just so the hospital and doctors could make a profit?”
You keep reading, even though the news story is sending your already delicate heart racing. You can hardly believe this happened in Elyria, Medicare fraud was something you never would have suspected of a local hospital.
The New York Times reported that Kenny Loughner, former manager of the hospital’s cauterization lab, filed his whistle-blower complaint in October 2006. He described in detail how doctor’s urged nurses to falsify complaints of chest pain to justify unnecessary angioplasties.
Steven M.Dettelbach, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said that aside from the cost billed to Medicare, performing medically unnecessary cardiac procedures puts patients’ lives at risk.
Dr. John Schaeffer commented on the Medicare fraud allegations settlement, but the chairman of North Ohio Heart Center just added insult to injury. He marginalized the scathing facts commenting, “We choose to settle rather than go to court. We felt confident we were making the correct choices for our patients. We still do.”
Let me tell you something – there is no way on God’s green earth that a major hospital conglomerate paid $4.4 million to the Justice Department unless they realized that a part of their anatomy is in the wringer.
Medicare fraud is a serious and rampant problem in our nation’s health care system. As a Cleveland medical malpractice attorney, I am aware of doctors that are currently serving prison sentences for Medicare fraud. I can think of doctors who were jailed and their crimes didn’t put patients at risk like the Elyria Medical Center staff did, and the amount of fraud was a fraction of the Elyria settlement. What will EMH Medical Center, North Ohio Heart Center, and specifically, Dr. John Schaeffer, learn from the spanking by the United States Justice Department?
Not a gosh-darn thing.
And, if that doesn’t give you chest pains, nothing will.