Hypocritic Oath

California's rent-a-patient scam has reaped millions for greedy physicians, clinics and patients

That bill: $6,183.

The next day, Smith returned yet again to Premier for an EEG test that added another $1,200 bill to the pile.

On July 24, records show that Dr. Ward Houck met with Jill Smith and her children at his Los Angeles office. That day, Houck noted in writing that Bobby's excessive sweating had been causing him great distress:

Fred Harper
Phoenix attorney Holly Gieszl, with her colleagues Mike Kimerer and Timothy Tweeton.
Jackie Mercandetti
Phoenix attorney Holly Gieszl, with her colleagues Mike Kimerer and Timothy Tweeton.

"His hands make his schoolwork difficult with smearing of his paperwork, tearing of pages, difficulty with writing as well as use of a computer. He enjoys athletics but has difficulty with his hands and their ability to grip. His favorite sport is basketball and he has a problem with the ball slipping.

"Socially, he avoids holding hands with girls and has often been teased by other students about his hands being wet all the time. He must change his clothing often due to his axillary sweating, and he ruins his socks and shoes due to his plantar sweating. He also notes excessive odor. He has tried topical agents, including Drysol for several months on the advice of his family physician, with little to no relief."

Houck's report on 16-year-old Michele's symptoms were almost word-for-word, with two exceptions:

"Her favorite sport is softball, and she has a problem with gripping the bat and has even had bats slip from her hand while swinging. Socially, she avoids holding hands with her boyfriend and has often been teased by other students about her hands being wet all the time."

The next morning, July 25, Dr. Houck performed back-to-back sweat-gland surgeries on Bobby and Michele Smith at Valley Multi-Specialty Surgery Center in Reseda. St. Paul's owners had started to rent space at the Valley clinic in the aftermath of the search warrant raids last May.

Houck billed Penn Western $15,300 for the two sweat-gland surgeries. He did not respond to a call for comment from New Times. Dr. Phani Paruchuri billed another $3,200 for performing general anesthesia on the children.

But the bills from St. Paul (actually listed as Valley Multi-Surgery Center) dwarfed those of the doctors -- $132,000 -- including about $57,000 in surgical supplies for each child.

The next day, Saturday, July 26, Dr. Robert McKenna Jr. examined Jill Smith at St. Paul clinic. McKenna, a partner of Dr. Houck, later sent his examination notes to Cathy Brady.

The notes said Smith "has a history of palmar hyperhidrosis [sweaty palms] that greatly interferes with social and work activities. She packs and ships boxes that slip from her hands. Her wet fingers destroy paperwork. Her supervisors have complained about the damage from the sweat. . . . She avoids shaking hands due to the embarrassment of her sweaty palms."

McKenna concluded: "Severe problem with hyperhidrosis despite medical management. The patient is a good candidate for surgical treatment."

The doctor's notes say he'd discussed the benefits and possible side effects of the sweat-gland surgery, summarizing his discussion, "Most patients have compensatory sweating in other sites. In five percent of these cases, the compensatory sweating may be severe. Those patients may be unhappy with this occurrence."

(Some of the Arizona rent-a-patients told New Times about their own continued problems with the "compensatory sweating." Though the surgery usually does succeed in drying sweaty palms, it typically also creates new areas of excessive perspiration, such as on the torso or legs.)

Smith's medical records indicate that McKenna performed her sweat-gland surgery on the day he'd met her, July 26. He later billed Penn Western $7,800. (McKenna did not respond to a request for comment.) Dr. Stephen Kim billed $1,200 for his role as anesthesiologist.

St. Paul billed Penn Western $66,000 for providing the space and surgical supplies for Smith's latest operation.

Cathy Brady's investigation revealed that Kevin Tien Do, the doctor in charge of the original July 17 examination and rash of tests, had pleaded guilty to health-care fraud months earlier, and was scheduled to report to prison October 15 for a year behind bars.

Court records show that, months earlier, in December 2002, Do had pleaded guilty to the felony in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

Do was convicted of "renting out" his medical license number to non-doctors, who then submitted phony reimbursement billings to the government. As part of his plea bargain, he had agreed to repay the federal government more than $366,000 in restitution.

But the doctor's guilty plea didn't lead to a suspension of his license to practice medicine, and that's why he legally was able to examine and perform tests on Jill Smith and her children.

In fact, California Medical Board records show the board still hasn't officially sanctioned Do, though the 1991 graduate of the University of Southern California School of Medicine is in prison.

Daniel Linhardt -- the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Kevin Do and is chief of the office's health-care fraud task force -- says he's frustrated with the medical board's lack of action.

"We don't even tell that [medical] board anymore when we've convicted one of their doctors of something, because they don't do anything," says Linhardt. "I had no idea that any of this was happening down south. No one from the insurance companies has reported this rent-a-patient stuff to us. We can't just guess at it."

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My Voice Nation Help

It is ashamed that people themselves to be used like that. The 800 dollars compared to the thousands the clinic pocketed is nothing. They should be prosocuted also.



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