Rent a patient

Need some quick cash? Everyone makes a killing when doctors and clinics scam the insurance companies.

"To do otherwise not only is unethical, immoral and a serious case of medical malpractice. The people involved in doing this to these patients ought to be thrown in jail."

That raises the issue of "informed consent."

A "Patient's Guide" issued by the state of California says informed consent "is more than merely your agreement to a particular treatment or procedure. [It] is your agreement to a proposed course of treatment based on receiving clear, understandable information about the treatment's potential benefits and risks. You must also be informed about all treatments available for your health condition, and the risks of receiving no treatment."

photo illustration by Shin Ohira
The Buena Park, California, clinic where the Arizona rent-a-patients are taken.
Steven Dewall
The Buena Park, California, clinic where the Arizona rent-a-patients are taken.

But the Arizona rent-a-patients say they had little discussion with anyone at the clinics about the procedures they were about to undergo, much less the risks.

"It was, This is what we're going to do,' and then they did it," says Sandra Padilla, a Mexico native who underwent a colonoscopy, endoscopy and then had her uterus scraped -- known as a D & C -- at two Orange County clinics last year. "Some of us don't even know English."

Blue Cross cut checks for the routine procedures totaling $76,000 to Padilla's live-in boyfriend, Julio Hernandez, the primary insured. Hernandez admits he cashed those checks.

As for his own "informed consent," Hernandez says he recalls only a brief conversation with someone at the Unity clinic before he underwent a circumcision last October.

"I ask him, What do you do?' and he says, We cut skin, but you not feel nothing.' He says it will hurt after for some days, and then all better. Then they put me to sleep."

But Hernandez and another west Phoenix man who also endured an unnecessary circumcision last year say the results were more than cosmetic.

"It doesn't feel right and it doesn't look right," says 20-year-old Jhoan Alvarez, another Cuban-born immigrant who worked at Onyx until a few months ago.

Echoes Carrie Andrews, a mother of two who lives with Alvarez, "He's my man. But after he got cut on [last October], it got infected, and it's just been a mess ever since."

Oskar Mora said last week that he still hadn't gotten his check from Blue Cross for his sweat-gland surgery. He says Qui Pham has told him the check should be for about $60,000, about $50,000 more than an average sweat-gland surgery.

Mora admits he'll be tempted to cash the check, as many of his peers at Onyx and others have done. But he says a Phoenix attorney with whom he's been in touch has urged him not to do it.

"Please listen," Mora says. "I make a couple of hundred dollars a week. We never see $800 like Qui [Pham] promise us. I need the money. But I don't think I am, what is the word when you want too much?"

That word is greedy.

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