Sixth Circuit reversed a decision by the trial court to set aside guilty verdicts for health care fraud and making false statements of a federal jury. Opinion.
Dr. Paulus was a successful Kentucky cardiologist and the first in the nation for the total amount billed to Medicare for angiograms.
Government prosecuted Dr. Paulus alleging that he exaggerated the degree of patients’ stenosis or artery blockages and often claimed 70% blockage when in reality there was 40% or lower blockage. If an angiogram shows at least 70% blockage, the accepted standard of medical care allows a doctor to insert a stent with no further testing.
The trial lasted 27 days. The Government presented testimony of nine doctors. The Government’s experts acknowledged that the interpretations of angiograms could vary from one doctor to another.
Regardless, the jury convicted Dr. Paulus of ten counts of false statements and one count of health care fraud and acquitted on five counts of false statements.
The trial court reversed the guilty verdict and ordered a new trial. The trial court found that Dr. Paulus’ interpretations of angiograms – the images that allow doctors to determine whether patient’s artery has become dangerously narrow and in need of a stent – was a “subjective medical opinion, incapable of confirmation or contradiction.”
The Government appealed.
Sixth Circuit sided with the Government and reversed the trial court finding that “a doctor who deliberately inflates the blockage he sees on an angiogram has told a lie; if he does so to bill a more expensive procedure, then he has also committed fraud. Even state-of-the-art scientific measurements may sometimes be imprecise. But in these circumstances, it is up to the jury—not the court—to decide whether the government’s proof is worthy of belief.”
I think the concerns regarding the consequences of this decision are best summarized by the NACDL in its Amicus Brief filed in the case:
Overturning the judgment below would create a precedent allowing the government to obtain criminal convictions against physicians making difficult, highly subjective medical decisions primarily on the basis of the testimony of a single expert with a contrary view. At best, this type of evidence can establish good faith medical error or perhaps negligence, which Congress did not intend tocriminalize and are already appropriately dealt with by other legal means.